(You can also read Rob Beames’ review of the movie, which talks about the plot. So we don’t repeat ourselves, my review goes in a little different direction)…
Inception (opening this Friday), which I caught at a multimedia critics screening at Odeon Leicester Square late last week, is Chris Nolan’s magnum opus.
Easily his most outrageous, inventive and complex film to date, it truly is one of a kind; a rare big budget blockbuster that challenges it’s audience to stay with it’s complex themes and elaborate set pieces but never once lowers itself into becoming a mindless, paint-by-numbers exercise in fancy special effects and explosions.
Yes, there are astonishing moments of CGI that will drop your jaw to the floor, a hell of a lot more than Nolan has used previously, and plenty of shoot-outs and that inevitable car chase that plagues every high-concept movie of this season but for once all the cinematic tools in a director’s arsenal are used to serve a purpose and to always push forward the underlining idea of a film.
The result is a thrilling, cerebral summer actioner, which as a whole exists as something unlike anything you’ve ever seen – an intriguing labyrinth of themes including morality, dream-theory, memory and the subconscious – a movie that is constantly shifting the stakes, the intensity and distorting our perceptions of relative time and space (a cinematic idea if there ever was one). It absolutely demands repeat viewings.
Part Ocean’s Eleven/The Great Escape (highly dangerous, men on a mission, heist/prison thriller), part The Matrix (dreams, alternative realities), part James Bond (elaborate sequences, a global scope) and carrying the emotional spine of a film noir – it’s a movie, fittingly giving it’s themes, that is hard to remove from your memory.
I guess that isn’t altogether surprising. After all, it’s this desperate attempt to grasp on to cherished things loved and lost, of characters trying to atone for harrowing events in their past by trying obsessively to control their future that is an ever evolving theme in Nolan’s work. As is the pursuit of the ideal, our chase for the illusive perfection of our dreams that can never possibly be realised. In some ways Inception is the culmination of ten years of thrilling cinema. It’s his Vertigo, his Clockwork Orange, his Schlinder’s List.
It’s the moment that the most talented and ambitious director of his generation, at the peak of his powers, makes a movie that will forever define him as an auteur. This is what he is about, this is why he makes movies, this is what he has been building towards.
The emotional narrative path that began with the disturbing tale of Leonard Shelby trying to forget the tragic moments of his wife’s death in Memento, that moves through the guilt-ridden Insomnia, and his two popular movies about a man in a mask and silly costume who can’t bare for anyone else to suffer the pain he has, all comes to ahead here in a tale that isn’t concerned with the right and wrong but instead what it means to be human.
I mentioned intensity earlier and I think that’s a talent that Nolan has added to his repertoire since The Prestige. It wasn’t really present in his earlier works, but in that tale of two rival magicians trying to gain one upmanship on each other – he found a way to tell a story that had an ever-hanging cloud of doom over it’s characters, and in The Dark Knight – he pushed this further in the way he used Han Zimmer to electrify his visuals. The first time I saw The Dark Knight, two scenes struck me with their intensity – the scene where The Joker crashes the party, and the car chase between Batman and The Joker that culminated in the ‘hit me’ stand-off scene.
Nolan’s best scenes, the first time you watch them, always feel fast moving and you find yourself so caught up in them that you let out a sigh of relief when it’s over. The way Nolan used Zimmer with a relentless, building soundtrack – I couldn’t breathe because the feeling was so intense and there’s moments in Inception when it feels the same.
Although it may sound like he is slightly ripping himself off from his last team-up with Nolan, Zimmer’s effective over-bearing score which you are probably now familiar with from the trailer really does become a character in itself. This along with Nolan’s MacGuffin, which here is so palatable and strong you are completely with each and every character, you fear for them, you are on edge all the time.
In Leonardo DiCaprio, Nolan has his James Stewart and his performance here is continuously shifting to depict deeper levels of a haunted man. It’s a surprising turn, especially considering he has dealt with very similar themes already this year with Shutter Island. He has become adapt at playing broken men, in a way that Humphrey Bogart perfected and he pretty much carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders, it’s definitely his vehicle. Although I prefer Chris Nolan’s movie over Marty Scorsese’s (though I frikkin’ loved Scorsese’s picture) I do think Shutter Island was his better performance and I’m hoping it’s that film he gets nominated for next year.
Every bit as good as DiCaprio is Marion Cotillard. Her character wasn’t at all what I was expecting, she is barely an echo, but she does something I never thought possible – and that’s make me absolutely, bloody terrified of her. I think it’s her eyes, haunting to the core. I found it difficult to watch every scene she was in, and it’s a credit to Nolan and Cotillard that they have created this character. Nolan also does something quite wonderful by his meta use of Ediaf Piaf’s ‘Je regret de rien”, reminding us of Cotillard’s character and her Oscar winning turn in La Vie En Rose.
The rest of the cast deliver fine performances all across the board (with the exception of one). Joseph Gordon-Levitt steps firmly out of his Indie shackles and we think he’s got one or two big movies in front of him, hopefully. Tom Hardy gets the showy part of the supporting group, and maybe he’s finally start to believe he can be a major star. That is a great sign for Mad Max – we think he has a huge future in front of him and I’m hoping this isn’t his last Nolan movie.
Cillian Murphy is finally given the screentime in a Nolan picture that warrants his talents. You feel that Chris has been desperate to use him in a big way ever since he auditioned to be Batman in Batman Begins, and he kept him around as The Scarecrow because he enjoyed his audition so much. This time he gets some real meaty moments. Michael Caine’s barely in the movie, but he has the best ‘sting in the tale’ emotional line of advice that justifies his casting.
Tom Berenger is always good for his money, and Dileep Rao has that gift of a supporting actor who makes exposition sound fun, dangerous. He was magnificent in Drag Me To Hell, and he play’s a similar ‘all-knowing’ role here. Which leaves me with the one performance that I couldn’t connect with;
I’ve never seen Ellen Page give a bad turn and don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t here, but I just didn’t feel like her part was in it for barely any other reason than to ask DiCaprio questions about the plot. She was basically the exposition character and I don’t think Nolan disguised this too well.
Like the majority of Nolan’s work, Inception demands repeat viewings to fully comprehend everything. Not that it doesn’t make sense (and hey, I’m the worst with complex plots) but I know there’s dozens of things I missed here. The dialogue moves forward so fast, the movie is that runaway express train that doesn’t wait for you to board or even hand in your ticket.
I swear to God we need this movie to make $300 million domestic and we need it to take the roof off the worldwide totals, for the sake of cinema. Nolan has proved what directors can do when the concept, and the idea comes first before the big explosions, the vacuous plotting and inane action sequences. A movie doesn’t need to be in 3-D, it doesn’t need to have a gratuitous sex scene/love interest, or even a villain. This is what movies should be, challenging, questioning, thrilling.
When was the last time you watched a Summer movie where you had absolutely no idea not only where the following scene would take you, but how it was going to end?