Alfred Hitchcock redefined horror and suspense with Rear Window, The Birds, and Psycho. Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips crafted the comedy classics that have defined our generation like Knocked Up, The Hangover, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Now, Christopher Nolan has broke ground with not only some of the finest storytelling I’ve seen in years, but also discovering a new frontier of film-making when it comes to the world of dreams. The film is set in a world of “dream espionage”, where a mysterious figure known as Mr. Cobb leads his team of individuals who are also quite mysterious on their biggest mission yet. On behalf of a suspicious superior Mr. Saito, Mr. Cobb and his crew must perform “inception”, placing a thought instead of the more common stealing of thoughts, in the mind of a rival businessman to convince him to not take his father’s place in his company. In the wake of the Bale/Jackman pairing in The Prestige and the Bale/Eckhart/Ledger/Oldman team-up in the phenomenon of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s cast for Inception may be his best pairing yet. Ellen Page, Cobb’s Architect/Dream Builder in Training is relatively new to the action genre, but Page perfectly fits as a believable character that often is explaining the deep mythology to the audience in a subtle way. Tom Hardy is one of the coolest characters on the roster thanks to the guy’s sleek screen presence and smooth talking, and Marion Cotilliard is effectively creepy in her role I can’t help but keep my lips sealed about. Ken Watanabe, playing the villain in the film Mr. Saito, has that classic Bond villain ooze to him. Cilian Murphy, who did some considerably good work as the Batman Begins villain Scarecrow, is a little cramped in his role and doesn’t get to do too much, and even good old Sir Michael Caine shows up to give his respects. The top prize however goes to the team up that was Joseph Gordon Levitt and Leonardo Dicaprio. Levitt serves as the mind thief in training sidekick of sorts who scopes missions out, and proves his acting potential with a few charming and at the same time kick-butt moments sprinkled through the film. He plays so well as an apprentice to Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, in a performance that matches his gut wrenching role in this year’s Shutter Island. Dicaprio perfectly plays a smooth-talking, emotionally wrenched know it all leader who can be just as Bond-esque and action-heavy as he is a memorable mentor to Page’s character, and can even at times be far too experienced with the rules of the game. Just like we had all hoped, one of Inception’s greatest strengths is its visual power Nolan pours into it. The film’s use of special effects when they help the story and build the world are spectacular (the building folding/cafe-exploding training scene is just as cool as you first thought), and every chance Nolan gets to take us to the dream world it’s an amazing trip, literally. Nolan as a literal take on the state of dreaming unlike other directors’ more fantastical interpretation like Michel Gondry’s spectacular dream film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and while it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, each world had a distinct feel to it, especially towards the end. Given the context and “rules” of the film’s universe, the smaller more real feeling of the dreams makes its own sense, and even works in it’s own way in that it can trick your mind so that it’s NOT obvious when a character is dreaming and something can go completely haywire, keeping you on the edge of your seat because you literally don’t know what could happen next. Whenever I think Nolan, I think of his policy of “practical when possible”, and once again in the shadow of the stunning truck flip in TDK the audience reaps the benefits of Nolan’s determination. Nolan creates a multitude of practical effects for action scenes in the film and they inspire a true sense of awe. Nolan has improved his sense of action since the Batman franchise and gets a better sense of shooting chases (including one gorgeously shot chase in Africa), gunfire, and the distinct personality of every bullet fired, but that’s only the beginning of it. Towards the end of the film, no spoilers to be mentioned, Nolan crafts a brilliant car chase, an unforgettable slow motion shot, and an unimaginably wide landscape for a huge scale wintry battle. These shots and so many others not only further cement Nolan’s appreciation for action cinematography but also helps cement the case that practical is always better, so take that James Cameron. Christopher Nolan shot an entire Everest-style-shootout for real, and there’s not a single real tree in Avatar. There’s one much talked about scene involving Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in a zero gravity hallway fight that’s being plastered on every trailer and TV spot and for good reason. It’s not just possibly Nolan’s best action piece, but it’s an action setup and execution that couldn’t be any better and stands as an all-time favorite of mine. Nolan also goes out of the way to shoot his film across the world. Even though most directors would opt out for a CGI backdrop to create an illusion of France, Nolan gives his film that old school feel by taking his characters to Tokyo, Africa, London, Paris, and Los Angeles. Nolan had the cajones to fly his team to China in TDK for a 5 minute scene that primarily took place indoors, and the same can be said for Inception, with a similar scene that doesn’t last near as long, but it sure as heck still looks great. If it comes to shooting a two minute scene that takes place on a helicopter landing pad in Tokyo or if it means building a rotating hallway so that your actors and stunt doubles can really experience the changing gravity, real always beats fake, and Inception’s many stunts and visual flourishes will leave your mind both amazed and simultaneously puzzled as to how it happened, and that is the magic of film. Hans Zimmer composes the impeccable score for the film, and it perfectly accompanies the film’s most frenetic chase with quick guitar riffs, to following gargantuan moments of action with loud, bombastic beats and to the most sultry of piano keys to accentuate the many dramatic moments where these characters become real again, it’s something you have to hear to believe.
The score perfectly accompanies the visual world he creates and the tremendous story he tells. Maybe it’s because we didn’t know how the film was going to turn out, maybe it’s because we didn’t know what was going to happen in the film, maybe it’s because it’s something we’ve never seen before, or maybe because it’s knee-deep in a mythology so well thought out by Nolan himself, but Inception from a storytelling point of view is a dream come true. Nolan tops himself in a way he hasn’t before solely by the world he creates. Gotham’s Gotham, but I’m not even sure Inception takes place in modern times. It’s not Los Angeles or Paris, it’s Inception-world. The world Nolan most definitely hand crafts and sculpts is full of a deep sense of rules (What happens when you dream within a dream? What happens when you die in a dream?) that will take multiple viewings to really get. Too many times the world comes second, but with Nolan his world is as interesting as the characters. As I said earlier, Nolan’s characters in the film are some of his best, and the journey that they take in the film is, just as Nolan himself had stated as his “biggest challenge yet”, one of epic proportions. You really do feel like this truly is “their biggest mission yet”, and as the film goes on and on and character’s layers get peeled back, the stakes get higher and higher. By the end of the film you feel like everything’s on the line, there are certain story elements that have been revealed that definitely broaden your idea of the world, eventually culminating in a final climax that feels just as it should. The. Final. Showdown. One aspect some may have a problem with is Nolan’s pacing of the film. The halfway point sorta feels obvious as there’s a shift in tone, the first half of the film feeling sorta like a training montage and the second half being the execution of that training, however it wasn’t something I had a problem with, as it gave the film a really sleek Oceans Eleven/James Bond vibe, an aspect that I came to love about the movie. Everything from the movie, whether it’s the gunplay, the sharp dressed men (cue music), the attractiveness but at the same time the independence the women have, or the sharp dialogue between the characters all reaching for that “one last heist” it all feels like a Bond movie that got mixed with Eternal Sunshine. Personally, that’s someone I never knew I would have loved. It’s also sort of worth mentioning that, a lot like Nolan’s other films (I felt the same thing in the boat scene in TDK), once the film is pulling in for that third and final act Nolan’s feet start to drag on the floor when it comes to him telling his story but starting to wrap it up. Much like a lot of Nolan’s other works the first and second acts are brilliant, in the “third act curse” you may doubt for a brief ten minutes or so, but then that genius kicks back in and your left speechless (See The Prestige’s last 5 minutes to get what I’m saying) by the time the credits roll, which may be his genius point all along. Another thing that could be nagged about comes in the form of the character arcs. Leonardo Dicaprio has a really touching conflict with his own past that the film spends quite a bit of time on, and the whole story’s arc kinda centers around that considering he’s the main character. It all pays off and it cements an amazing character arc for Mr. Cobb, but the other characters aren’t so fleshed out. I had no trouble remembering distinct characteristics of Ariadne, Arthur, Mal, and Eames, but they don’t get close to the attention they deserve. In the film’s defense though, we should be grateful for the development we had considering the mythology was as well structured and perfectly executed as it was. Throughout the whole film Nolan’s guiding hand is really evident. Nolan writes his characters in a certain way, he builds their conflicts in a beautifully dramatic light so that once characters finally confront eachother it feels real. All the while he injects his own humor, his own dark but exuberantly cool style, and the moment where you can sense the story stepping back before a radical action scene to say “Now watch this…”
As I’m finally starting to close here, Inception is a film. It’s a film that you must see. It’s a film that’s already received critical and commercial success (at this moment it’s already made its budget back, thankfully proving the American audience isn’t brain dead). it’s a film that intelligently and boldly discovers a new frontier of the science fiction genre. It is possible to get lost in the film’s complex world, however compared to his other films, it’s a breeze. As long as you follow the first 30 minutes it’s basically spelled out for you. Inception is a film that breaks ground, it’s something none of us have ever seen before, it’s awe-inspiring, heart-breaking, mind-melting, it’s just a miracle of a film. I could recommend it based on the action, the visuals, the performances, the score, heck even on the hallway fight scene alone. It’s a wonder this film exists, and it’s truly astonishing that it lives up to the potential it laid out. So go now, take the adventure with Cobb and his team, and as I stated earlier in this review, let’s take a step back before something truly amazing happens, and “now watch this…”
Okay, I know that review was super super long. However this would be the perfect time to try out a new feature for my long rambling excuses for film reviews-
- Incredible Sense of Visuals, Including Dream Worlds, Action Stunts, and Locations
- Great Cast of Diverse Characters and their Performances
- Perfectly Written Story with Epic Stakes and Touching Character Arcs
THE BAD (?)-
- To some, it can be too confusing at being too much too quick.
- Even though it was for the greater good for the film, not many of the other characters get delved into like Leonardo Dicaprio’s character Mr. Cobb.
5 out of 5