Saturday, July 17, 2010

Movie Review: Inception (2010)

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

British director Christopher Nolan is on a hot streak. With his 2000 indie cult hit Memento still gaining new fans each year, he's had a string of monstrous hits, from The Prestige to The Dark Knight.

Nolan can now boast to having rebooted a once-tired comic book franchise and having one of the best films of 2010.

Domenic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is gifted in the art of extraction. The technology exists where a man may enter a person's subconscious while they are in a dream state to uncover deeply buried secrets. Cobb and his team are hired out by rich businessmen or international associates for a high fee. However, after the recent death of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb is ready to retire and lead a quiet life with his two young children. Before he gets the chance to leave for good, Cobb is drawn back into one last challenge; the complex process of inception. A Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb and his team to implant an idea into the head of his young business rival, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), whose father is on his deathbed and will likely pass his entire fortune onto his son. Saito's plan: to convince Fischer, while in his subconscious, to dissolve his father's empire. Cobb's challenge is to make sure the inception of the idea is convincing enough that when Fischer wakes, the dissolution of his father's company will feel like a natural thought to him.

Visually, the film is stunning. Everything has a blue, washed out feel while the CGI never feels overdone. One scene, in particular, is a standout. Watch for a hallway battle between Joseph Gordon Levitt-s character, Arthur, and one of the "military men" that represent the hostile subconscious of Cillian Murphy's character, Robert Fischer. The slanted, air-bourne battle is visually overwhelming.

That being said, Nolan never relies too heavily on the technological aspect, preferring instead to create a deeply complex film with great characters and twisted revelations. Unlike most action thriller's that depend on CGI explosions to earn them money at the box office, Nolan has no such qualms about making the visuals secondary to the plot development, which is a rare treat and something that any film fan will openly welcome. Whether you see this in IMAX or on a regular movie screen, this film needs to be viewed in theatres. The visual spectacle of it all, combined with Hans Zimmer's ominous score, can only really be fully appreciated on a giant screen in surround sound.

Nolan, as usual, makes excellent casting choices. Like Quentin Tarantino, he tends to turn to the familiar faces and prefers great actors, in general.

As Dom Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his finest performances. I usually find him to be a wildly uneven actor. When he's good, he's great (see What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Romeo + Juliet and The Aviator) and when he's bad, he's pretty lousy (see The Man in the Iron Mask, Titanic and anything that requires him to have an accent of any sort). The role of Cobb seems tailor-made for his talent. DiCaprio instills Cobb with a hardened exterior that masks the heartbroken torment of the man inside. DiCaprio's Cobb can be both a violent man prone to random bouts of irrational anger and a softer, more sensitive man who is mourning the loss of his beloved wife.

Nolan surrounds DiCaprio with a fantastic supporting cast. The always wonderful Ken Watanabe, as Saito, is a standout. Despite his evil scheme of implanting the idea in Fischer's head, he's a highly sympathetic character. This is both a combination of Nolan's excellent script and Watanabe and the rest of the casts performances: all the characters are flawed human beings, yet all remain likeable and real, which is a testament to all the talent involved. As Cobb's young cohort, Arthur, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is solid in his role as the aspiring leader of the group once Cobb retires. Although still learning the ropes, he is the calm, cool and collected counterpart to DiCaprio's often-irrational and emotionally fragile Cobb.

Cillian Murphy is his usual solidly reliable self as young businessman, Robert Fischer. He manages to make Fischer into more than just some spoiled rich boy who hopes to inherit daddy's money one day. He's confused as to what his future may hold and is, almost heartbreakingly, trusting and naive when within his own subconscious (even though, as a wealthy businessman, he was trained for the possibility of extraction or inception being done on his mind). He's got daddy issues galore, which give his character a sense of vulnerability not usually found in stock characters of his type. As British shapeshifter, Eames, Tom Hardy is a welcome newcomer (at least to Hollywood). His character is both a violent tactician and a master of disguise, effortlessly weaving in an out of Fischer's subconscious with both a cocky arrogance that comes from experience and a sense of humour. As Cobb's deceased wife, Mal, Marion Cotillard is beautiful, unstable and emotionally fragile. She exists now only as Cobb's fragmented memories, yet Cotillard plays the part perfectly.

Finally, we come to Ellen Page. Initially, at the start of the film, I thought she was miscast. She felt dozens of years younger than the rest of her co-stars. Her diminutive size and youthful appearance made it seem as though DiCaprio were working alongside a twelve year old. Although she's only a few years younger than Gordon-Levitt and Murphy, it felt like there was a larger age gap between them. That being said, she does an excellent job with her role as the new "architect", Ariadne. Thanks to her talent as an actress she makes Ariadne a strong-willed and wise character who acts as both Cobb's conscious and the audience's voice (she asks Cobb all the questions we, as an audience, want answered).

Inception is one of those rare summer treats that come along every once and awhile: a film that is too good and too clever to get caught up in the summer blockbusters. It's also a film that will not be to everyone's taste and will likely require repeated viewings in order to fully grasp all of its complexities  and philosophical ponderings. However, for anyone who appreciates a flawless script, stunning visuals and a great cast will, no doubt, love every wonderfully overwhelming minute of Nolan's new masterpiece.