19 July 2010

Depend On The Dream- INCEPTION Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Christopher Nolan's latest Inception is an odyssey for Dom Cobb, a kind of dream-thieving fugitive who embarks on one last job in order to have his record wiped clean and return home to his two children. It's not as simple as one last job though- the assignment is to enter the subconscious of a business heir and create an idea in his dream, the inception of the title, rather than stealing it. Moreover, Cobb's own subconscious is so fractured and traumatised that he could put his mission and his team in jeopardy himself.

If there's an unusual film coming out in the summer blockbuster season of 2010, it's this one. Put simply, it's the film that probably wouldn't exist if The Dark Knight hadn't done as well as it did at the box office. This is the film you're allowed to make after you've directed a billion dollar Batman movie, with Nolan given the free rein that so few studios allow directors to take.

You've heard the critics try to describe it. This is what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would have been if it were directed by James Cameron. This is what Stanley Kubrick's James Bond movie would have been like. The reason for all those bits of critical rhetoric? Most critics are simply finding it hard to admit that this is something really brand new. It's not Hitchcock's The Matrix or Kaufman's Avatar. It's Christopher Nolan's Inception.

And put simply, it's dazzling. In The Dark Knight, Nolan was praised for doing things with the character of Batman and the superhero genre that had never been seen before in a cinema. No matter what you think of that film, it's hard to deny that with Inception, he's done things we have never seen before in a cinema, full stop. I'm not sure how he does it, but you'll leave this one with the same feeling his last film gave many audiences- that it's an event, and more or less an instant classic. The kind of film that will bear up in years to come and continue to provoke discussion and philosophical debate.

It's difficult to know where to begin. Alright, the best part for me, personally? That corridor fight scene. Everyone will be talking about it, but as someone who's been telling his friends for yonks that a strong practical effect trumps a strong CG effect, that scene was nearly enough to make my little film geek heart burst. And what's great is that the necessity for CG effects in a dreamscape as imaginative as Nolan's doesn't lead to any remotely unconvincing effects. Major kudos to the effects teams and to Wally Pfister, Nolan's long-time cinematographer.

Its performers are as consummate and dedicated as those behind the scenes, with another fine ensemble cast brought together. After the relative sausage-fest that was The Dark Knight, it's refreshing to see an excellent pair of actresses shining so brightly in this one. Ellen Page is Ariadne, who could so easily have become our Harry Potter for the film with questions like "What's inception?" to more knowledgeable characters, but instead she becomes Cobb's frankly gorgeous conscience, and a powerful character in her own right. Marion Cotillard is the other stand-out performer, subverting expectations as a subconscious antagonist to Cobb.

Elsewhere, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt continuously threaten to steal the film with their virtuoso turns while Cillian Murphy plays his industrial heir as a surprisingly tragic mark for the team. In the centre of it all is Leonardo Dicaprio as Cobb, and if you're lucky, you won't notice the similarities with his work in Shutter Island until after the closing credits. For the rest of the film, he's as assured in his leading man status as he's always been, convincing entirely as the rallying point for this motley bunch of subconscious mercenaries.

Since the film was released, I've seen it twice, and have utterly changed my mind about my first impressions that this film would go over many people's heads. Then again, it is one where everyone has to pay the film their full attention. The mind-bending plot is heavily but neatly exposited via Ariadne, and to go to the toilet or go and buy some popcorn is to lose track of the plot. A film this cerebral rewards repeat viewings anyway, but don't ever doubt that every minute is driving the plot forwards.

The sad thing about Inception is that we won't see many like this again. It's not that it won't be a hit- I believe it's had a great opening weekend in the States- or that people won't like it, but it's just difficult to imagine anyone with the same balance of vision and studio clout as Nolan coming along to match it. I can certainly imagine knock-offs of this plot coming along, but I doubt anything will match the way this one utterly engrosses its audience, transporting them into its world and shaking their brains up, down and all over.

But when a frankly ingenius bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey storytelling is set up before the breathtaking final hour, Ariadne asks who would ever want to spend a decade in a dream. She's told it depends on the dream, and from the opening frame to the maddening stimulus of the final shot, Inception is a dream I was more than happy to spend two and a half hours with. It's a rare, precious and purely magnificent blockbuster.

Inception is now showing in cinemas natiowide.
If and when you see Inception, why not share your comments on the film and/or my review below? If you're stuck on any points, I'll explain them for you for a mere five pounds sterling. "Inception Explainer" is going to be my summer job.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Simon said...

Lets not forget the scorching sexual chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. We all saw it.

The Incredible Suit said...

There I was, innocently googling random words like "inception depend", and I found myself here. Amazing.

Yep, JGL and TH were definitely enjoying a little inception time of their own there. And why not? Good-looking blokes the pair of them.

Mark said...

On second viewing I did find myself wondering how soon certain audiences would capitalise on the fan fiction potential of a film set largely within dreams. Stop helping, you two! :P