7.21.2010

Inception

Inception at its core is a heist movie and in this it follows procedure dutifully. There's the hardened veteran, his right hand man, an estranged love with unclear loyalties, the crew of assembled regulars, the wild card, and of course the inductee. Delve deeper into the formula and even more archetypes and familiar plot points appear. The only real originality in this ensemble is "the score" and the setting it resides in.

But what a setting.

The big caper, the "one last job," goes down in a dream. A realm both intangible but wholly realized. The dream has it's own rules, regulations, caveats and threats. The goal of the heist adds an extra layer of clever, the gang is charged to place something instead of taking. When looked at from afar, it all remains incredibly simple, which heaps the weight of its success onto the execution.

But what an execution.

Christopher Nolan has upped his game by taking a genre that is well loved (and often well represented) into a cinematic experience as fresh and exciting as ever. Watching Inception play out is a reminder of why we love movies. The base premise is interesting enough, invading dreams with the ability to manipulate and control the world around oneself is plenty to set anyone's fantasies afire. But it's the story that is so goddamned well crafted that the viewer is drawn into it just as deeply as the characters themselves. The concept remains simple, but storyline quickly becomes terribly complex as newer and more radical concepts are introduced. We are eased in, one concept at a time, and just as the stakes are raised, so too become the tiers both the players and the viewer must navigate. By the time Inception is entrenched in its own plot the film is working on a dizzying number of levels, all wrapped around themselves and spinning pure story magic. Dreams are happening within dreams within dreams, timelines of each compounded and compressed. It builds and unfolds like origami from an invisible hand of a master craftsman and it is all immensely entertaining.

Every cliche is spun sideways as they cause their own twists and ripple effects in the dreams they inhabit. A car chase in one dream affects a fight scene in another. Nail-biting minutes on one level translate into precious seconds on its predecessor. Action and drama are presented in pop-corn chomping awe with imagery that will be pretty hard to forget in today's love 'em and leave 'em tentpole onslaughts. This is high praise, although the truth is it's hard to ignore when it's all up on screen.



The cast of actors is just as refreshing. DiCaprio's Cobb anchors the film with a deserved leading man maturity, but his supporting cast lights up around him, even alongside Nolan's oft-featured stable of go-to's. Standouts include Ellen Paige's portrayal of dream architect Ariadne, who covers the role of leading viewers around the world while maintaining a smart and insightful determination of her own. Most fun to watch is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Arthur, Cobb's number two who is given more than his fair share of weight to pull. Aurthur's shining moment comes in a hotel hallway fight scene that is one of those "gotta see it" experiences, a display of brute force amid freefall interwoven throughout the film's climax.

The hard science behind much of Inception's dream-wrangling is glossed over, seemingly a non-detail vehicle that allows the characters to traverse an incredible landscape. In writing and directing, Nolan chooses his battles to give the audience the most bang for the buck. A see-saw of delivery, at times exposition can be spooned with as much grace as a toddler's meal, only to be followed by sophisticated mind games relentlessly piled on top of one another with barely a breath between. The dream worlds warp and transform around all of it, the characters swim between them in search goals both tangible and nebulous. What's created is a great, great movie. Although with acclaim coming in steady streams, there is still the voice of opposition that demands to be heard in our age, as if no film is deserving enough to just be labeled as "good." In fact it's not entirely easy to lay it on as thick as what's been written here without some introspection, yet the thrill of leaving the theater after the credit roll still lingers. The La Times positions that Inception has polarized critics, citing multiple views confusing the overall effect of the film. Quoting Newsweek's David Ansen, "We live in an era when there's a tendency to overvalue anything that's even slightly good. In another era I don't know if we'd see gushing enthusiasm." Dear lord, it's baffling how much that statement cannibalizes itself given the state of Hollywood today. Inception is a superbly crafted, genre-bending watermark now-- "in another era" it's hard to think of the impact such a film would have had!

Need to cut through it?

"Inception is awesome."

Okay?

1 comment:

BD said...

Yeah, I love that fact that Nolan describes this as his "heist film." Sounds like he both builds upon and surpasses the conventions of the genre. Opens here this week with a big push by Watanabe. Hope it'll do well.

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