Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Before I talk about the movie itself, I just want to say how glad I am that it exists. A summer action movie with a huge budget that's not only based on an original idea, but a complicated one, that isn't really explained in the trailers and actually asks the audience to think? It's a miracle that this was made. I have some amount of respect for Avatar for doing a similar thing, but the whole story was so broad that anyone from children to senior citizens could easily understand it, which was its intention. But Inception has the complexity of a low budget, mind-bending labor of love destined to release in a dozen theaters inside the shell of a blockbuster crowd pleaser. I guess it's too bad that Christopher Nolan had to make Warner Bros. six hundred million with The Dark Knight before he was allowed to do it, but I can live with that.

And the best part is that the film delivers. It's not perfect, but no movie really is. It is successful at doing pretty much everything I wanted from it, though. The extraction/inception concept in elegantly realized, giving you the basics in the twisty opening sequence (No punches are pulled; after a couple studio logos in the beginning, Nolan dives right into the story and demands you have your brain on immediately) explaining itself more as necessary, and playing out as expected, following its own rules all the way. Several critics of the film have complained about the film's interpretation of "dreams", saying everything is way too orderly and logical to accurately represent a true dream state. But the movie isn't about a true dream state - it's about something artificial, similar to dreaming but not actually the same, that allows for it to be designed and shared by multiple people. People criticizing the film for not being dream-like didn't understand what it was about. Not that everything is entirely orderly - there's obviously the scenes with the city folding over and exploding around the characters, but what's clever is that all these money shots for the trailer happen when the stakes aren't really that high - it's there to explain the potential of control within the dreams, but the real "heist" in the movie is generally more orderly beyond the different touches that show the way dreams can affect others.

I was actually surprised by how much action there was - I imagine if Nolan had complete creative control there might have been a bit fewer guys with guns running everywhere to focus a bit more on the story, but he made sure to fill it up with shooting and explosions to keep the studio happy. Not that it's ever too distracting, and it's generally pretty well filmed and exciting. I felt a bit of fatigue by the time they get to the snowy area from the trailer but I appreciated the attempt to mix it up a bit. Where the action really shines is one scene in particular, a sequence in a hotel hallway that's tumbling over, which completely captures the potential of the moment and to me was the most striking image in the whole film. Nolan has always been more of a craftsman than a stylist when it comes to his filming technique, and that holds true even in sequences like these, but somehow it makes the crazy story work. I imagine that someone more inclined to wow you with the crazy shit he can come up with might lose the thread, whereas Nolan keeps his insane ideas grounded enough with his studied film work that it all seems to make perfect sense.

Beyond the action and heist movie elements, there's also an emotional core to the story. The whole reason for Leonardo DiCaprio's character Cobb accepting the job is a personal one, and as we learn more about his dark past over the course of the film, it becomes clear how tragic the implications of all this escaping into dreams is. He's the only one who really gets this sort of development, as everyone else is mostly there to serve the story, but without that aspect the film would merely be a brilliant executed one and not so powerful. It's a really good if understated performance by DiCaprio, and it helps that pretty much everyone else is fantastic too. Ellen Page comes the closest to understanding his character, and she does a great job as the audience surrogate to whom everything is explained, something which isn't always the easiest to do, especially with a concept as heady as this one. Marion Cotillard gives another really damaged performance, and she's quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses in the game. Michael Caine shows up for his fourth Nolan film, although it's really a bit part that he doesn't have much time to do anything with, yet he's still his charming, wise self. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy are really great as members of Cobb's team, charming and badass as required, and I definitely need to see more work by both of them. Ken Watanabe plays a pretty critical role, and does a good job despite an accent that's a bit difficult at times. The rest of the cast is solid as well, though they didn't really jump out.

In the end, I wasn't sure how I really felt about the film. It impressed the heck out of me, but I wasn't sure if it hit me like the other truly great movies that I've seen. Then I spent the rest of the time from leaving the theater to sitting down for this review doing little other than thinking about what I had seen, and continuing to marvel at how well its best parts worked. Screw it, this was a fantastic movie, and it will likely end up in my top ten of this decade easily. It wasn't flawless, but I feel like many of the criticisms were from people who just weren't seeing what they expected to see, and the vision on display is astounding. It's clearly designed for repeat viewings, the ending was perfect, and it was probably the best combination of new ideas, visual ingenuity, and well executed action since The Matrix. If our summers were filled with things like this instead of remakes, sequels, and adaptations of every successful property under the sun, the world would be a better place.

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