Friday, July 16, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

I'll just let this one speak for itself. Go see it.

Pinch Me
Inception is a dream come true

Hype is the spark for the fire of backlash, but screw it: Inception is one of the best American movies ever…as in ever ever. Someone should place a copy of this film in an indestructible canister so that centuries from now, when our vastly evolved offspring dig up remnants of our self-immolated civilization, we are defined by this and not Twilight. What writer/director Christopher Nolan has done is meld the American aesthetic of action-adventure with a polycultural pursuit of personal progress. This isn’t a home run; he just bounced a Rawlings off of the moon.

There’s a reason the logo for the film in the trailer tilts to reveal a maze that would make Daedalus suicidal. The plot is so layered that it’s like word Jenga. Because describing it in detail would take the decade Nolan worked on the screenplay, here’s the gist: Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief. Technology has been invented that allows shared dreaming, and Cobb and his crew of Ocean’s 11-by-way-of-Sigmund Freud posse use this to sneak inside the Matrix-esque dreamworld of sleepers and rob their thoughts. The process, called extraction, allows them to pilfer passwords, crib codes and steal secrets.

We meet Cobb as he is confronted by the Moby Dick of thieves, that ever-present staple of heist movies: the elusive “last job.” Saito (Ken Watanabe), a powerful businessman, demands that Cobb reverse his usual procedure and implant an idea in the mind of his rival, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), rather than take one. Although this practice, called inception, is nigh impossible, the price for this effort is the freedom to return home to his children, the one thing Cobb wants most.

Instead of a “weapons expert” and “computer specialist,” Cobb must assemble a team that includes a “forger” named Eames (Tom Hardy), someone who can pretend to be someone else inside the dreamworld; a mental security expert named Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), someone to fistfight the semi-sentient subconscious; and an “architect” named Ariadne (Ellen Page), someone who can create the structure of the dream itself.

Complicating matters is Mal (Marion Cotillard), a projection of Cobb’s wife who actively tries to work against Cobb…and whom he subconsciously carries with him. In order to finish the job, the team must drill into a dream within a dream within a dream, fight off Cobb’s nasty spousal projection and convince the mark that the idea they are embedding is his own. Simple, right?

The slight-of-hand that may allow a work of art as sophisticated as Inception to be a box office behemoth is that following all of the details is optional. Should audiences choose to sit back and enjoy the bad-assery of a zero-gravity fight sequence or the beauty of heart-rending duels between DiCaprio and Cotillard without once contemplating the complexity of dream logic, they can do that. The reason this is an inherently American masterpiece is that it works on a superficial, oh-my-God-did-you-see-that-sweet-effect, popcorn movie level and on an arthouse, independent, this-reminded-me-of-an-obscure-French-film level. It’s a gourmet microwave meal.

The only thing hard to digest is Nolan’s necessary evil: the explainy dialogue. Cobb and Ariadne have several “so this is how it works” conversations so tepid they could comprise the text of “Extraction for Dummies.” Of course, it helps that these exchanges play out over the film’s most visually breathtaking sequences, in which cities fold on top of themselves. It’s hard to be too bored while your eyes are squealing “ooh, pretty.”

Equally as appealing is the acting, anchored by DiCaprio, who is somehow able to make a smile-free character with a black belt in brooding sympathetic. His “buddy cop” interplay with Gordon-Levitt is simplistic but revealing, suggesting a backstory we intuit without ever being told. Actually, it is Gordon-Levitt who is awarded the film’s most memorable sequence, as he channels both Fred Astaire and Bruce Willis in a circuitous, ceiling-walking brawl. Taking nothing away from Page, the obvious audience analogue, and Hardy, who steals at least half a dozen scenes, the show-stopping performance is from the angel-eyed Cotillard. Nolan’s vision of an action movie with a climax that is more about emotional release than gunplay would have been impossible without her.

Inception is one of those movies that’s almost more fun after it’s over, discussing and investigating the intricacies. Hours could be spent pulling apart the music, in specific the use of “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien,” or analyzing where the boundaries of reality and fantasy really collided. Dreams are arguably the most personal expression of self. By nature, they can only be shared with others through retelling…and something is always lost in that translation, details that can’t be told, only felt. The miracle is that Nolan somehow gave us his entire dream unfiltered, compromising nothing. Turns out, the technology for shared dreaming already exists, we just rarely use it that way.

Grade – A+

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