Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Inception (2010) Review

The dream is real…or is it?

How the hell do you follow up The Dark Knight? For all the questions that people will undoubtedly have after walking out of Inception, this is the one that first popped up for audiences and the director Christopher Nolan himself before the cameras began rolling. For the record, Nolan has actually been cracking away at the script for this since his first mind-bender Memento was in development, honing out every detail and plot turn until it reached the point it’s at now. When he first envisioned the movie, he actually saw it more as a horror story instead of the heist influences we have now. Rather than developing another person’s work, like Batman, which has been around for almost 70 years, Inception is entirely Christopher Nolan’s creation. It’s his baby, the one he has wanted to make his entire career, since before he was even making movies let alone ones that would reach unbeatable pop culture popularity.

Plot Synopsis: Cobb is an extractor, someone who can enter a person’s dreams and steal an idea or thought without them knowing what happened. He and his team are approached by a mysterious businessman named Saito who wishes for them to perform the opposite, inception, on his rival Fischer where they will plant an idea that will split up his rival’s company. But because it is very hard to create an idea without the mark feeling that something strange is occurring, Cobb and his men will have to dig deeper into Fischer’s mind in order to trick him into creating the idea himself. At the same time, they will have to deal with the projections of Cobb’s dead wife Mal, who continuously haunts his mind and can sabotage their mission at any time.


First things first…lets take a look at the long list of strong and diverse actors on display here. DiCaprio puts in another excellent performance as Cobb, rivaling his equally great work in Shutter Island earlier this year. Some will criticize DiCaprio for playing somewhat similar characters in both films, but that doesn’t mean his performance is of lesser quality here. His relationship with Mal, played with equal amounts of beauty and creepy menace by Marion Cotillard, is the emotional heart of the story, grounding the otherwise fantastical plot in relatable human terms. On the other side of the coin is Fischer’s relationship with his father which, while not receiving the same screen time as Cobb and Mal, allows Cillian Murphy to flesh out his acting muscles beyond his typecast “creepy man” roles and he gives a career best performance.

Filling out the cast is a cornucopia of good actors both old and new, which includes Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, and even Tom Berenger. Page successfully pushes herself further from her Juno persona, giving a good performance as well as being a stand-in for the audience as she learns the rules of the game. Gordon-Levitt continues to get closer to mainstream popularity here and Hardy is most fun of the bunch, lending a light air of comic relief while at the same time believable as an action hero, which will serve him well when he takes the reins of the Mad Max franchise. If there’s one real complaint I have about the movie, and there aren’t many, is that I wish these characters were better developed, especially Arthur and Ariadne (Eames is fine because Hardy’s performance is so good that we still get a sense of who he is). Cobb, Mal, and Fischer are the only ones with significant development in the story.


The real star of this show nevertheless is Nolan himself, neatly wearing his James Bond, Ocean’s Eleven, and Matrix influences on his shoulder without ripping off those predecessors. Despite taking cues from various genres, he tweaks them and presents them in a way that feels entirely original, such as with the heist plot where the men must plant their idea instead of stealing one. The way he envisions the dream world also proves to be fresh and new, conjuring up people and worlds that are grounded in reality while at the same time allowing for otherworldly occurrences to dazzle us with their dynamic visuals. And the special effects used to create these sequences, whether practical or computer created, are seamlessly combined with the actors and sets. In one of the most memorable fight scenes in recent years, you really will believe two men are fighting in zero gravity. As his career has progressed over the years, Nolan has really come into his own as an action director, and the mayhem he creates here is better than anything he’s directed before (although some of his action editing still needs honing). And by the third act, the different action sequences in each dream layer intertwine with each other to create a smooth flowing and suspenseful race-against-the-clock.

And yet despite eventually turning into a nonstop action ride, the movie never loses track of the smart plot, and even challenging us to think about what’s going on (gasp!). The story demands your absolute attention; no bathroom breaks or five-minute naps are allowed here, unless you want to risk becoming lost in the details of the plot. That’s not to say the plot is incomprehensible; on the contrary, the way everything is strung together is pretty easy to follow, although I will admit to being somewhat confused during the last ten minutes on my first viewing. On my second viewing though, I was able to focus on that part and understand perfectly what happened. That’s because basically everything that occurs falls in line with the dream world rules and lingo established in the first third, which then allows Nolan to go buck wild for the last two acts and at the same time keeping us in the know as events fall into place. The two and a half hour running time moves much quicker than you would think, thanks to the rapid pace of story revelations, action scenes, and Hans Zimmer’s evocative and seemingly continuous music score that carries us for the ride.


Aside from the lack of supporting character development and some convolution near the end, the only other criticism I could think of (and it really is only a nitpick) is that occasionally I couldn’t make out some of the dialogue, whether it was because of the music or Ken Watanabe’s strong Japanese accent. And in a movie where attention to story and dialogue is of the utmost importance, the few times where it’s hard to make out can be a little confusing. But that little nitpick aside, I wanted this two and a half hour movie to be even longer than it was. Call me crazy, but I thought the first half was moving so fast that some extra footage could’ve helped developed the characters and story more. However, for the amount of craftsmanship, creativity, substance, and just flat-out awe-inspiring spectacle present on the screen, Inception represents one of the best and most satisfying movies to come along in a long time, arguably even since The Dark Knight (ironically).


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