Fri 16 Jul 2010
Christopher Nolan’s resume is impressive to say the least. From toying with our brains in “Memento” to making us believe in magic in “The Prestige” to resurrecting the Batman franchise, he always manages to take familiar elements of everyday life we can relate to and use them to create a cinematic canvas that not only challenges but allows for actual thought and discussion to take place afterwards … no small feat in this era of lowest common denominator film making.
His latest effort, “Inception”, is perhaps the most ambitious. In an attempt to avoid as many revelations of the film’s plot as possible, I’ll give only the basic framework. Leonardo DiCaprio is a highly skilled extractor – that is, he can enter a person’s dreams and pull out information. He and his team are tasked with doing the opposite, however; not to discover some hidden secret in the recesses of someone’s mind but to plant an idea within it in order to effect a decision by the subject. That’s it folks, that’s all the plot you get (I avoided seeing more than the first few seconds of the trailer and didn’t even look up the cast names ahead of time, just to enter the screening as fresh and open as possible. I have great respect for Nolan and the attempts he was making at guarding the secrets within the film).
Much like “The Usual Suspects”, “Fight Club”, or “Memento”, giving out information about where the film is headed only cheapens the experience. You should be prepared for a number of concepts and details that, while adequately explained through necessary (for the most part) exposition, will still keep your mind running. Don’t think you can walk in, sit down, turn off your brain and enjoy bright colors, tepid humor and big explosions like with pretty much every other big budget film so far this year.
No, what Nolan and his team (big kudos to cinematographer Wally Pfister, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and editor Lee Smith) have done is create a labyrinth of possibilities for your mind to explore. In talking with friends and fellow critics afterwards, we each had our own conclusions as to which elements of the film were “real” … and I don’t think any of us are wrong, even with differently drawn conclusions. “Inception” could be classified a heist film or you could think of it as a con film, with the ultimate con artist being Nolan himself as he tricks the audience into believing one thing when it very well may be something else entirely.
Now, making this film didn’t come cheap, with the production budget reportedly north of $200 million. This is mostly due to CGI and large set pieces set up on gimbals in order to pull off the difficult task of creating dreamscapes that feel realistic but can also deteriorate or change basic laws of physics at the drop of a hat. These effects aren’t necessarily showy, but they look fantastic on the big screen. What makes all this work impressive is that Nolan doesn’t use CGI or set pieces simply because they had the money to do so; everything is organically included to maintain the illusions being presented on-screen.
Helping to flesh out those illusions and ground the film in something we can relate to is an overabundance of acting riches. Although DiCaprio was echoing a lot of his “Shutter Island” performance, it worked well for the character (and loyal readers know I’m not one to praise him lightly). Acting alongside him are the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Ken Watanabe. Putting those names alone on a marquee is enough for me but Nolan didn’t stop there; he filled in the cast list with Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite and Lukas Haas. All of them put in tremendous performances and form the most exciting and talented ensemble of the year.
Perhaps the only downside to the film comes from an artistic choice involving Hans Zimmer’s score. There’s a loud, bold, imposing and loud main theme that is repeated during most of the ‘pivotal’ moments. For you eagle-eyed proof readers our there, I used ‘loud’ twice because that’s the key issue. The composition is reminiscent of the opening bars to the “Star Trek” reboot last year and there’s no mistaking that it’s being used to tell the audience how ‘important’ the images on screen are. This reeks of pretentiousness and, worst of all, might serve to disconnect you from the movie. While I was able to, for the most part, keep myself engaged in the proceedings, I shouldn’t be fighting to stay connected; the score should compliment the visuals. And it wouldn’t have been so bad if they just turned the mix down a few dozen decibels … it’s so much LOUDER than everything else (sorry for yelling but the point had to be made).
With shades of “The Matrix”, “Dark City”, “The Thirteenth Floor”, and many other films concerned with testing our perceptions of reality, “Inception” is probably the smartest mainstream film we’ll see all year. For anyone who enjoys Nolan’s work or a script that’s aimed at audiences who want to think, this is a must see film on the big screen and gets a 4.5 out of 5 (the ridiculously loud score moments knocked this off the perfect ledge).
I actually left the theater with a slight headache- partly from hunger, partly from keeping my focus so squarely trained on the story- and that minor bit of pain was so worth it. Hopefully, this will surpass box office expectations and show Hollywood that there’s a viable market for original films aimed at adults looking for more than a couple of good looking people figuring out how to conquer their insecurities or CGI explosions for the sake of using the newest Intel processing power.