A Slice of Fried Gold

Review: Inception

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In a summer filled with (even more) brainless action flicks and romantic comedies, getting a movie that even qualifies as good (save Toy Story 3) was beginning to seem like a lost cause.

That we finally get a movie that is not just high quality but also wildly inventive and completely unlike anything else we’ll see this summer (or anything else ever more than likely) is shocking, until you realize it’s virtuoso filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s handiwork. This past Friday, his new film Inception came out and it not only met the towering hype that preceded it but surpassed it.

The film begins with kings of extraction - the art of stealing from others dreams – Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) attempting to ransack the dreams of energy magnate Saito (Ken Watanabe). The genesis of this job stems from the comic prequel Inception: The Cobol Job, but the comic isn’t necessary as this film stands entirely on its own. This job goes poorly, and the whole of the film spins thusly from there. However, to go into the plot seems like it would just be a foolhardy task. This film in its two and a half hours of running time weaves many plot threads together while going into a level of depth (this word will have new meaning when you watch the film) that you just don’t see in blockbusters – if I wrote about the plot, I’d need probably at least 10,000 words.

Suffice it to say, you should just watch it.

But why should you watch it? Many have quickly drawn parallels from this film to The Matrix, and while I see bits of that, I think that’s an entirely unfair comparison. People find the need to compare one film with another incessantly because it is an easy way out, but to rely upon that convention would be unfair to the film: Inception is one that stands entirely on its own as a fiercely original and remarkably innovative spin on classic filmmaking. Not only that, but unlike other pioneering efforts, Nolan manages to ground these ideas with sheer perfection in storytelling.

The basic premise is a man that wants to get home, and the lengths that he’ll go to make that happen. Around that framework, Nolan expands and creates like he’s one of the dream architects from the film. In comics, many people say it’s the perfect artform because the sole hindrance on quality and innovation is the creator and his/her imagination. With full studio support after a stunning list of previous efforts behind him, Nolan becomes perhaps the first auteur to make a film of pure, unadultered imagination that works as unabashed spectacle as well. Whether you’re talking second level Arthur developing the kick to awaken his team knee deep in Inception (the job, not the movie), Ariadne’s (Ellen Page) first efforts as a dream architect, or the expansive third level showdown against a slew of winter commandoes, this movie is filled to the brim with well crafted action set pieces. It’s a massively entertaining film that is elegantly paced and ferociously intelligent.

Yet, all of these elements would be for naught if the players bringing them to life were not game. Thankfully Nolan pulled out all stops and assembled a veritable all star team of actors. You’ve got DiCaprio giving us a restrained and smoldering lead performance. There’s Gordon-Levitt taking a different turn on his formula as the unimaginative yet effective Arthur. When Page comes into the equation, she turns the story as a whole with her ever-evident intelligence and her charisma that acts as a bridge between the cast. With those three, you have a remarkable top three, but it goes far deeper than that.

For me, Tom Hardy as Eames stole every scene he was in. Exhibiting the same charm he has as a scoundrel in films like Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla, the screen crackles when he is on it. Recurring Nolan players Watanabe and Cillian Murphy give us nice spins on their norm, as Watanabe gives us an angel that always seems as if he could be the devil at any turn, and Murphy manages to take a more basic role as a mark and make it an emotionally resonant and well developed one. Everyone kills it in this movie.

I could just go on and on. Wally Pfister continues his beautiful symbiotic relationship with Nolan, as he continues to create an iconic look and feel to each of Nolan’s films with his cinematography. Hans Zimmer’s score is heavy and atmospheric, ever present but never really existing anywhere besides in the back of your brain (very similar to what he did with The Dark Knight). Everyone on the visual effects team…well, they did an incredible job at fully realizing Nolan’s imagination on the screen, and I bet each job they get after this will seem boring in comparison.

Long story short, Inception is definitely the best blockbuster film since The Dark Knight, and perhaps one of the greatest summer offerings ever. What Nolan does with this film is essentially throwing down the gauntlet to all other filmmakers, effectively telling them that just because they are making a big budget movie doesn’t mean that it has to be brainless or old hat. In a time where everything we get anymore are retreads, remakes, and ridiculous dreck, to experience a film like Inception is utterly refreshing and reinvigorating. It gives hope to this viewer that originality is still a possibility in a medium that I love that so often falls back on places they’ve already treaded.

I have to say though; it only makes sense that the two camps that have produced films that work as both entertainment and as art this summer have been Pixar and Nolan. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

To close this review, I have this line from /Film’s David Chen:

Buying a ticket for Inception is buying a ticket in support of high-quality, original filmmaking at big movie studios. It’s buying a ticket in support of the idea that a movie doesn’t have to be dumb to be popular, that it doesn’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator to make money.
Couldn't agree more. Make sure you catch this film.

Final Verdict: 9.5/10


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