Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Inception

Not to try and give away the general direction in which this review is going, but has this past week perhaps been the best opening week for new films in the cinema since the beginning of the millenium. There hasn't been opening week for films like this since 2006, in which Juno, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood all opened within a couple of days within each other. On Monday we had the absolutely majesterial Toy Story 3 open, and the Friday before we have Inception, the new film by Christopher Nolan. I was listening to Mark Kermode's review of the film, and I agree with him in saying that this is effectively Warner Bros saying to him, "Hey, you made a billion dollars with The Dark Knight, here's $160 million to make whatever you want." The end result is thus presented before us, and not without a big $100 million marketing campaign to promote, and what I say is about freaking time. Any, more in due process. I'll try my best for a basic plot synopsis, but really, it's as Morpheus says about The Matrix, nobody tells you what The Matrix is, "you've got to see it for yourself." The film follows Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, an "extractor" who enters people's dreams in order to access information that is inaccessable otherwise. Given the opportunity to do a job that gives him the opportunity to regain his US national status and his family, his team, including Arthur, Ariadne, Eames, Yusuf and his employer Saito, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Yao and Ken Watanabe respectively, to fufil the less-familiar task of "Inception", planting an idea into one's subconcious, that of Cillan Murphy's Robert Fischer, to take over his father's business empire. To be fair, I probably shouldn't even be explaining a plot synopsis, for one of the real pleasures is seeing Inception is not knowing anything about it going in. The poster tagline of "Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime" and anything is enough for me to see any film. Nolan has an absolutely impeccible back catalog of films, and I am unmoving in my argument that he is the best director of the past ten years. Unlike many film-makers who consistently make good films but make one every four or five years, the longest gap in Nolan's filmography is three years between Insomnia and the creation of Batman Begins. Although I have yet to see his debut feature Insomnia, I have seen everything he has done since, and am suitably impressed. He is one of the few directors today whose working career I actively follow. We have seen Nolan in the past tackle perception of time and conciousness in films such as Memento, and this is very much a big-budget update of the themes that he generally challenges in his work. This time round he writes the screenplay by himself without frequent collaborater Jonathan Nolan and to be fair it is really good. The actual central concept is something very interesting to keep you thinking for the first half-an-hour, but then the actual structure and execution of the idea from its base form into something genuinely intelligent is masterful. Structurally the script is like a developing snowball rolling down a mountain, starting slowly and small, consistently building into something massive and genuinely fascinating. This is real brain juice for the mind, and really keeps you thinking and makes the film seem almost like an interactive experience, being taxing and addictive, but wholly rewarding. Often the problem with such a good idea and structured script such as this is that there is hokey dialogue and flawed characters written. I mean, as much as I really love The Matrix, a film that this certainly shares some comparisons, it had some really hokey dialogue. Here, the dialogue is very well written, and the interactions between the different characters are wholly appropriate. Furthermore, Nolan manages to take this wonderful screenplay and keep control of it. Unlike recent efforts by Tarantino, someone who does really need to control himself, Nolan does not go on trips of meglomaniacal self-indulgence and keeps suitable restraint on himself. Once again, as if it didn't need any more proving, Nolan proves that he is perhaps the best director in the world, masterfully conducting a behemoth task for any film-maker and keeping true to the central idea and the screenplay. Two years ago, Nolan won my Stanley Kubrick Award for Best Director for his direction on The Dark Knight, and I think he has probably topped his efforts on that, so he might well win again. Also, the film is brilliant from a technical standpoint. Unlike many special effects blockbusters these days, Inception uses mostly real choreograped sequences, for Nolan prefers to film this way. For example, Inception contains nearly 500 visual effects shots, and it is not uncommon for contempories to feature 1,500 or 2,000 vfx shots. As such, vfx supervisor Paul Franklin's work blends in tremendously with the real sets in the film, appropriately so for the film which is about the basis of altered reality and the question of what is reality. Also, Wally Pfister shoots a tremendous picture once again, his work only seeming to get better with each picture he does. Each scene is appropriately lit, especially considering the numerous locations spanned in the film. He seems to be as comfortable shooting static scenes with people in close-up as he is shooting action sequences. This is truly stunning work, with the scenes involving a shootout/car-chase in the rain coming to mind. Work must also be pointed towards the cast. Whilst Nolan's films are often noted for their technical brilliance, he too also knoews how to get together a great cast. This film is a prime example of strong ensemble cast acting. Alongside the cast members I have mentioned, also starring in the film are Marion Cotillard, Lukas Haas and Michael Caine. Also, it is nice to see Pete Postelwaithe and Tom Berenger, whose performance as Sgt Barnes in Platoon is one of my favourite. Leonardo DiCaprio really stands out as Dom Cobb, making the best of a very complex character. This is a fully fleshed, rounded and three-dimensional performance. DiCaprio has by all means proved himself as a great actor before, but this may well be his best. Cobb is a determined leader and DiCaprio portrays him with suitable charismatic qualities neccessary, but it is the deeper psychological aspect of Cobb that DiCaprio portrays brilliantly. As opposed to performing someone who is traumatised with manicism, DiCaprio presents Cobb with a type of madness not often seen in cinema, giving him a very unique performance. Also strong is Cillian Murphy, who although not having as much screen time as DiCaprio, delivers a suitably solid performance as Fischer. There is a whole other story going on between Fischer and his father that we are only told sparingly, but thanks Cillian Murphy's brilliance we are able to gain a great insight into this story in a really subtly great performance. Finally, Marion Cotillard delivers a really powerful performance in this film. Her performance is a bit of a niche/concept performance, which really although having gone well could have turned out terribly, but it works really well. As I said, it is a niche/concept performance, and it involves plot spoilers, so I won't get into detail, only saying that I believe that it is one of the better performances I have seen all year. Now, as you have gathered I didn't just like Inception, I loved it. However, the film is not without the smallest flaws, and they should be pointed out. It isn't a case of looking for flaws in the wake of my Toy Story 3 mania, but they were apparent to me as I was watching the film. For one, although I believe Lee Smith to be a fine editor whose work was solid for the most part in the film, I felt that the tension that was snowballing with the plot, running in paralell and almost in tandem, lost it's consistency and begain drop slightly towards the end. My problem, therefore, is that I feel that the final twenty/thirty minutes of the film needed a bit of a lookover. Saying that, this could be a screenplay problem. It is very hard for a film which is as big as it is ideas-wise to keep it's consistency throughout, but for the most part it is continued with suitable class. By the ending of the film however, it is though it has picked up a self-awareness of it's own flaws and corrects them by giving us a really solid climax. All in all, Inception is a really masterful and wonderful film, and I hope that this makes a lot of money, because it is about time that we, the people, were not looked down on by the creators of big films. Inception is a prime example of big-budget film-making at it's absolute best, fascinating, intelligent and exhilarating. On behalf of everyone, thank you Christopher Nolan, and a good luck in the quest in which we join you to force the studios give us more films like this. We demand films which demand more of it's audience and do not treat us like lobomised simpletons. We want more!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bloated at food for thought

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