Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Movie: Inception

The only inception.

Christopher Nolan is pretty big news these days. The guy who blew us away with best-the-first-time-round Memento, who re-launched the Batman franchise, saving it from that mid-nineties neon disco mess, is now being hailed as the saviour of the modern blockbuster movie. And with Inception, he truly deserves that crown, for better and for worse.

I will begin by reassuring you that, to the best of my ability, there will be no spoilers, at least in the big sense. It would be impossible to carry out a review without being able to reflect on anything within the story. That said, I won’t be accidentally dropping clangers of the Bruce-Willis-was-dead-all-along variety, I promise.

Allegedly ten years in the making, with Inception Christopher Nolan gives us everything we expect from a big summer movie blockbuster smash hit: a big-name cast, state-of-the-art special effects, colossal action set-pieces, and carefully woven love story to pluck a melancholy tune on our heart strings. The story follows Cobb, played comfortably by Leonardo diCaprio, and his merry band of co-conspirators. (I’d call them a dream-team but that would be too much, wouldn’t it?) Set in a future where people’s minds can be invaded through the medium of their dreams and subsconscious, it is quickly established that Cobb & Co are in the business of using the technology to steal information. That is, until someone asks them to do the opposite: if one can steal information from the mind, then surely it must be possible to leave information there instead. This sets the main stage, and provokes questions as to the ethics and dangers of messing with the delicate architecture of the human mind. A powerful aspect of this is how we are left to think about this both during the film and invited to meditate on it afterward. There’s something quite interesting in concept of how a film about putting ideas in people’s minds provokes the people watching to take that idea away with them. We are incepted by watching Inception. This irony is delicious, give me more.

The cast, for the most part, are very watchable. In some ways I feel that the casting leans in some way to favour a feminine eye, in that at least four of the principal men are all very attractive in their own particular ways, whilst the two women are what might be described as comfortably attractive. In both camps there are questionable choices also. Ellen Page is starting to look like she may never grow up, and in this movie, she still reeks of teen angst in a way that I found distracting, and her cohort Joseph Gordon-Levitt does not pull off his Mad Men hair style, looking more like a young boy dressing up as a man, rather than simply being a man. Cobb’s wife, Mal, is played brilliantly by Marion Cotillard. It’s a rather revealing name for French-speakers out there, but I promised no spoilers, and no spoilers shall I give. She plays her character elegantly, with a subtle and uncomforting threat about her.

Visually the film makes great use of colour, although I feel that this area is perhaps the hardest to comment on after only a single viewing. The variety of dreamscapes and cityscapes that we are treated to over the course of the film’s 148-minute journey are both wide-ranging and exciting. In terms of the the locations used, more than once you may feel reminded of a James Bond-style of movie. Indeed, the espionage theme seems to underpin the plot significantly in various ways, and helps to keep the feeling of tension running throughout. The most striking scene, perhaps, is the zero-gravity fight scene that is balletic in its choreography, reminiscent of the wire effects seen in movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There is only one area in which I felt let down, and that was the scripting. This the ‘for worse’ attribute that I previously associated with Nolan’s blockbuster crown. Too often, the lines feel clunky, over-stated, and unnecessary. I do not remember feeling this with Nolan’s films in the past, and so I am inclined to find fault with the actors, but they cannot all be at fault. While on the subject, I found diCaprio’s performance is a little unconvincing,  although perhaps this was due to the problems I had with nearly every line of his dialogue. In the script’s favour, however, I would praise that no attempt (or at least very little attempt) is made to explain how the technology works. This is always a problem in science-fiction films, and the easiest way out of the quagmire is to never set foot in it, and in this area, Nolan succeeds.

In conclusion then, I would recommend this film to anybody who likes action movies with a little more thought in them than normal. There are easy comparisons to make, and that have been made, with films such as The Matrix trilogy, and whilst there are comparisons to be made, I think that Inception is more appealing than the Wachowski brothers’ oeuvre. It is not nearly as nerd-leaning for a start. Certainly, there is jargon abound here, but it is far less technical than that of The Matrix. The story is complicated to follow at times, and it definitely requires more than a little bit of attention from its audience. Mind you, if you are prepared to pay the attention, and if you can avoid asking some of the inevitable questions that will arise until after movie, you are guaranteed a thrilling ride from start to finish. It is telling that after nearly two and a half hours, I could happily have stayed for two and a half more.


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