Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Director Report Card: Christopher Nolan (2010)

7. Inception

“Inception” is the perfect movie for Nolan. It combines the mind-bending and the psychological, with thrilling shoot-outs and action set-pieces. It is equal parts “Batman” and “Memento,” an epic that takes place completely within the human mind.

Being the sole person on the planet who hated “The Dark Knight,” I was expecting Chris to screw up. Namely, that premise, of sneaking into a person’s dreams to steal or implant ideas, is tricky. “Dreams never make sense,” I was telling myself. However, the movie plans for this but introducing the idea of the architect, someone who literally builds the dream. The writer/director is an architect himself and his quest to make the story work is equally as perilous as the quest of the characters.

This script is so tightly constructed. Nolan is juggling so many different balls here that it’s amazing he pulled it off. Five or six different scenarios are going on at the same time. In the first act, the concept of dream extraction and inception are brilliantly laid out for the viewer. Pay close attention, this stuff will be important later. The movie never feels expositionary though. Ellen Page’s character needs to be introduced to this world so, by showing and explaining things to her, the film is also explaining things to its audience.

It’s not just story aspects that are being set up, but character back story. Leo’s character has a traumatized past that he hasn’t exactly dealt with, as well as legal problems keeping him out of the country. These tantalizing morals are dangled in front of us before becoming vital later on. All of this works as a summer blockbusters too, because of the amazing visuals and the intense Mubai chase scene.

Once the crew is together and all the ground rules set, we head into the real story. Now things get complicated. The idea of the subconscious being taught to defend itself's is slightly gimmicky but it makes sense. Like I said, this is a thriller too. And though the characters all ready have a time restraint to work under, actually having them being perused makes the tension that much more palatable.

And soon we go further down the rabbit hole, experiencing dreams within dreams. It really is a brilliant juggling act. Somehow, despite being completely involving the entire time, the film never lets us forget about the layers, how something else is always going on at the same time in a different place. Moreover, it does this visually but having what’s happening on one layer affect what happens on the other. (The zero gravity scenes in the hotel are one of the highlights of the film.) By the time we go racing into the climax, the film perfectly ties its subplots and emotional charges in with the story at the end, satisfyingly wrapping things up on both a plot and an emotional level. If all of this wasn’t complicated enough, the movie even throws extra wrenches at you, like the Mr. Charles gambit or the fate of Ken Watanbe’s character. Amazingly, it never slips. The whole thing is kept together the entire time.

I don’t know if it’s Nolan himself or his choice in second-unit directors, but the action scenes here are some of the best of his career. Gone are the shaky-cam of the Batman films, replaced with an concentrated, confident focus. The visuals and imagination on display is incredible and shows that Nolan is both a great writer and visual dreamer.

This is an ensemble piece through and through and the cast is appropriately solid. DiCaprio continues to play his tortured loner bit but the film packs that thread with actual emotional, making it work. Joseph Gordon-Levitt really shines here. All the bad ass action theatrics are given to his character and he performs them admirably. I’ve heard some people complain that Ellen Page is distracting but I don’t see it. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge fan of the actress, but she comes off as whimsical but wise. Because the story is so focused, her character doesn’t get the investment she might merit but it’s still a good performance. I get the impression that Tom Hardy’s part was originally written for Heath Ledger (They even look similar.) but he also does well, being the trickster of the film and often providing some much needed comic relief. Cillian Murphy is mostly puzzled, amazed, or embittered but he ends up saying a lot with only a look or gesture. The best performance goes to Marion Cotillard. I’ve never seen her this pissed off in a movie before. She is a purely emotional character, a physical embodiment of rage, guilt, and loss. The character is ferocious and the performance is fantastic.

Despite being such a brain-scratcher and a crowd-pleaser, the movie doesn’t compromise. I was really afraid they were going to screw up at the end with some “It was all a dream” twist. It doesn’t do that but instead ends on an ambiguous note. Yes, this is a summer blockbuster that actually asks its audience to interpret something. Amazing, right? It is amazing. “Inception” is a high-light for everyone involved. [Grade: A]

1 comment:

Sean Catlett said...


The movie's fuckin awesome. There is a certain point when the heist begins halfway through the runtime that it gains a tremendous amount of momentum and doesn't stop until the credits roll. I was giggling with such joy. *shot of van's progress to water*