Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: Inception (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy

"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange."
-Cobb 

Man, Leonardo DiCaprio is really not having good luck with women this year! First he gets a psychotic killing wife in Shutter Island and then he gets his forsaken long lost dream-love in this one. Someone needs to take the guy to a strip club or something; sheesh.

But that really has no bearing on how good a film like Inception is. This is a Christopher Nolan movie, which means if you like any of his other movies, you’ll like this one too – not because they’re all the same, but because they’re all so good, and he puts so much work into making them explosive, complex and driving cinematic opuses. Inception tells the story of a man named Cobb, who lives in a not-so-distant future where dream-theft is possible. He is hired by a businessman to assemble a team of dream espionage agents and “influence” the mind of a young heir to liquidate his dead father’s company to save the market.  However, Cobb is still battling his personal demons in the form of his deceased wife, who he was accused of killing.

Now, before I go any further, I’m going to attempt to lay out the workings of this whole dream-entering espionage business. Apparently, there are two people that can affect this whole dream thing – the one who enters the dream, who builds and manipulates the world around them, and the dreamer him- or herself, who populates the world with ‘perceptions,’ or images of people who aren’t really there – just like we all have in our own dreams.

That’s why DiCaprio goes to his father (Michael Caine)’s job where he works as a college professor, requesting a student to help him out with the heist. Caine tries to reason with his son, but ultimately gives in, and lets him have a student named Ariadne, played surprisingly by Ellen Page, who I didn’t recognize at all, and who is a genius architect who can help him construct the worlds he needs. And while I’m on that tract, I also didn’t recognize the great Joseph Gordon-Levitt as DiCaprio’s sidekick Arthur. He did a good job. But I think I must be losing my touch with how much I never recognized these actors throughout the whole two hours of this thing. I did recognize Cillian Murphy though.

But there are some…complications. You see, apparently you can also go deeper into the dream-state, and have a dream within a dream, and even a dream within a dream within a dream. This is probably the movie’s best point right here, as I just find it so fascinating. We just keep expanding, don’t we? And by that I mean the human race. It wasn’t enough to keep expanding in our own reality. This movie suggests that we take it to the subconscious plane as well, and that is some tasty food for thought.

So the story goes that DiCaprio and his wife spent 50-dream years inside the dream world constructing their own little paradise, only to wake up and have her go crazy thinking that the real world was also a dream. I won’t spoil the entire premise of this subplot, as it really is a good one, but now he is overridden with guilt, and she pops up in most of his dream sequences because of it, completely out of his control, seeking to meddle with whatever is going on. This will naturally cause calamity in the other plot about the heist.

Inception is a tightly woven and sleek thriller. The characters are cool – Ellen Page as a super-genius architect student was actually really good, and I found she added a lot to the movie. Tom Hardy is the handyman of the group as he somehow manages to shapeshift whenever needed and is also a real bad-ass; what a cool guy. And how great are the visuals? Just watching that city fold over on itself is a spectacle. And watching Ellen Page wander around creating things with her mind is really great, just for the ‘what would it be like if YOU could do it’ factor - admirable. Other great visual moments include the entirety of the scenes in the arctic tundra with that military base and all of that military-style warfare going on around and inside it. Or how about the scene near the end when it starts to rain in DiCaprio’s wife’s apartment room and Ellen Page is standing in the doorway with everything blowing in and out? Or when they wash up on the shores of their final dream, at the beach with all of those crumbling buildings falling into the water? This movie is a veritable feast for the eyes. It has perfected the art of pleasing your eyes.

It’s just the little things. Like the lighting in the various hotel rooms featured, shaded subtle golds and delicate auburns. It just gives the whole thing this really noir-esque feel that I find really enticing and charming. All of the settings are just meticulously great; they are really the icing on the cake of this full-throttle-ahead rocket canister of a film.

A lot of people are talking about the film’s emotional core, about DiCaprio and his wife, and saying that that is truly why the film stood out. It was certainly interesting enough; I admit…I am always a sucker for a tragic romance plot stuck into an action film, just to round it out with style. And it is certainly done well here. But does anyone else think Leonardo DiCaprio would make a good villain? Whenever I see him in this movie scowling and playing the cool thief and the mastermind of the heist, I think he’d be great playing a serious mobster or big boss type villain. I mean, look at him. He looks completely demented and sick here, even moreso when he’s in the throes of his depression and loneliness, in his more quiet moments. I was all ready to believe he was the one who was nuts, with that look in his eyes. He really has come far since Romeo + Juliet…

This is a very cool, cinematic picture. You really get sucked into it, and it is always big, epic and grand like any good summer blockbuster should be, and the fast pace is entertaining as hell – don’t even blink, lest you miss something. The emotional quality is more complex than the usual fare, but then, Christopher Nolan is becoming known for challenging the common perception that summer blockbusters are the ‘big, dumb’ movies. He is actually good at profiteering from this. He gives the audiences a big, flashy special effects movie with epic camerawork and explosions galore, but also adds just the right pinches of complexity and emotional depth in the plot to make the audience feel rewarded, and like they’re smart for trying to understand it more in depth. Mr. Nolan, I must admit, gets better at this every year. It will certainly be interesting to see where he goes next.

But is this all a dream? Did I really write this review? Did I really see this movie? Is anything real? Are we all just dreaming right now? You could be dreaming as you read this. None of this could be real at all. Think about these things, and take them back with you to the real world. If you can get back, that is.