Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception (2010) – Review

Inception is an extraordinarily well made and acted heist film. The narrative structure is layered with multiple realities happening simultaneously and multiple dramatic threads being interlaced through each of these realities. Yet, master director Christopher Nolan is able to weave his seemingly complicated tapestry into a straightforward and easy to follow narrative only asking (must like the opening line of The Prestige) for the audience to pay attention. And while the narrative is straightforward, the film nonetheless encourages, if not mandates, speculation and debate. There are not too many blockbusters that are able to achieve this task – keep the viewer thinking not only throughout the film but long after the credit roll. And make no mistake, this is a blockbuster – there is action, adventure, exotic locations, everything a viewer could want from a big summer film. At times, the film almost plays like a James Bond film – the way the action beats are taken – as an exaggeration of what big action set pieces should be like, yet still anchored in reality (to an extent – given the rules of the film world). This is the rare blockbuster that has the viewers on the edge of their seats not only due to the fantastic action pieces but more so as the audience cares about the outcome for the characters. Nolan’s dramatic threads connect with the viewers as they are eloquently unraveled – each decision made has an emotional resonance which the audience picks up, drawing them deeper into the film – the stakes of the characters are therefore meaningful to the audience. This is not just about wowing them, which the film certainly does; it is about the emotional journey.  The film has a lot of exposition to get through, as this world is foreign to the viewer, which in most cases can cause films to drag, but Nolan is able to lay out the exposition in such a way that not only does it draw the audience in more, as the viewer is intrigued by its visual representation, but it also builds upon the structure that is already in place – raising the emotional stakes. Though, the film is rather long, and can at times feel long, as this is a film that is constantly moving and engaging and that can be tiresome, but this is a minor flaw. The supporting characters are also not given a lot of background and business, and are thus expressed to the viewer through know archetypes. Yet this film focuses on and through its main character, thus the supporting players are merely there to aid in the journey of the main character, and therefore do not need be more than they are – plus, the film is so packed with information, there really is no time or room for multiple deep characters. And, they are so fantastically played by the cast and fit into the narrative Nolan is telling so well that their lack of depth is almost unnoticeable in the grand scheme of the film, and in as much is irrelevant to the film as a whole. But it is the fact that these characters are so great that the viewers want more. On to the technical side, Christopher Nolan once again makes a strong argument for his place among the great auteur directors not only of this generation but of all-time with this film. Nolan is one of the few today who makes wonderful films for the Hollywood audience (much like the great directors of old, like Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock). His aptitude at producing stunning films again and again is due to two key aspects: his screenwriting ability is astounding, as this script is quite monstrous in its scope yet easy to follow in its visual presentation, and he has developed a perfectly complimentary group of collaborators to work with him (again much like the other master filmmakers) and yet again they provide strong output. Nolan is a master at structuring his narrative; while often disjointed and nonlinear the films are still clear (from a plot standpoint, as the underlying concepts are left for interpretation). Hans Zimmer’s work stands out the most among his collaborators behind the camera. His score featuring Johnny Marr is massive in its emotional depth and flow – being both beautiful and full of tension. It is magnificent. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is typically superb and emotionally provocative, eliciting viewers to succumb to his visual fest. Editor Lee Smith must have had a tough job with the film, so much detail and business going on, but pressure to tell the film as efficiently as possible. He did impeccably. Newcomer to working with Nolan, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas brought his expertise in big adventure action sets to the film and provided his best work to date. As well directed, written, shot, edited, scored, and designed as the film is, it is equally well acted with numerous performances worthy of acclaim. Leonardo DiCaprio has well established himself as an elite talent among actors, but his performances continue to get better. In Inception, he is the point of reference for the whole film – the emotional journey for the audience lives and dies with his performance. To say the least, he is perfect in the part. The supporting cast is just as great. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cool and confident. Ellen Page is sweet and intriguing. Ken Watanabe is powerful and endearing. Cillian Murphy is eager and hesitant. Tom Berenger is tough and understanding. Michael Caine is sophisticated and warm. All wonderful performances, but it is Tom Hardy, in a breakthrough type performance, and Marion Cotillard who stand out. Hardy commands the attention of the audience, while Cotillard beautifully plays the emotional center, yet with an air of mischievousness. Dileep Rao, Pete Postlethwaite, Lukas Haas, and Talulah Riley are also good in smaller roles. Nolan has a fantastic ability to cast his films and garner perfectly suited performances. Inception is a unique film, to be both an exciting adventure-style film and thought-provokingly deep. It is the first masterpiece of the new decade. 10/10

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