Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Inception (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan                           Writer: Christopher Nolan
Film Score: Hans Zimmer                             Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe

Wow. That was an incredible film. Though Christopher Nolan had not impressed me with his Batman series, his attempt here to out matrix The Matrix is daring and, for the most part, successful. Like the Batman films, his action-on-action can be confusing at times and the character development is nonexistent, but his ability to build four credible levels of dream world in the film and tie the whole thing together logically should be commended. This was an extraordinary feat, from the screenplay down to every level of film craft. Indeed, though Inception was not nominated for many major awards at the Oscars, it did win Academy Awards for cinematography, special effects, sound editing and sound mixing. But there’s much more to the film than just technical work. I’m no fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, but the old he gets the better actor he becomes. He’s still not very convincing for me, but unlike a lot of actors who diminish with age, I get the feeling that DiCaprio will be around a long time and, similar to someone like Max von Sydow, will give some impressive performances the older he gets.

DiCaprio plays an extractor, a person who goes inside of another person’s dreams to retrieve information that is locked inside their mind. He and his partner, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are working with a wealthy client, Ken Watanabe. Initially it seems as if they are attempting to steal secrets from him, and Gordon-Levitt is concerned that he knows he’s in a dream. But then the three of them wake up in a seedy apartment with Lucas Haas running the dream machine, while angry people stream down the street to storm the apartment. Before long guns are being pulled and threats made, though it’s not until Watanabe winds up on the carpet that he realizes this is yet another dream. In the end, though Watanabe is impressed with their abilities he needs something more: inception. He wants DiCaprio to get inside the mind of his competitor and plant a thought that he should break up his company once he inherits it from his sick father. There is a certain inherent difficulty in doing this, however. Part of that is also due to DiCaprio’s past and the complications it bring with it. With the loss of Haas, DiCaprio seeks out a replacement by going to his father-in-law, professor or architecture Michael Caine, to see if he can recommend one of his students. The architect of the new dream world they must create is Ellen Page. She is drawn into this grey market undertaking by the challenge it presents and the adventurous nature of the dreams they inhabit as well as her natural talent in creating them.

There is a certain Matrix quality to the film, but only in conception. The dream world they inhabit has different rules that the matrix and is certainly more tenuous, as the entire structure collapses once the dreamer begins to awaken. There have been several precursors to this idea as well, namely Brainstorm with Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken, and Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow, but not only is this idea far more adventurous, but the special effects have improved so much that it literally made this film possible. While Nolan calls his dream creator an architect, that is also very much the emphasis of the film itself, buildings, mazes, streets and bridges all work together as the structure for the story as the team navigates uncharted territory. In fact, when Page first begins her work with DiCaprio she attempts to manipulate the physics of the world, turning streets upside down, walking through mirrors, and the like. The only problem is, the more she manipulates physics the more that the people who inhabit the dream--supplied by the actual dreamer, not the architect--become angry and attempt to kill the architect. It’s an interesting twist that keeps all of the participants curiously inter-dependent on each other.

DiCaprio and Page are the real stars of the film. Gordon-Levitt gives some solid support as does their thief, Tom Hardy. The dying old man is played by British character actor Pete Postlethwaite and his young son by Cillian Murphy, while the real power behind the “throne” is Tom Berenger as the cutthroat lawyer whose abilities to consolidate the influence of the corporation is what has Watanabe going after it in the first place. It’s difficult to talk about this film without giving a lot of it away, and the unfolding of the plot is very integral to the enjoyment of the work. And that's probably the film's biggest downside: I'm not sure it's something that is going to hold up to repeated viewings. It’s interesting to note the similarities to another DiCaprio film released the same year: Shutter Island. DiCaprio plays a character haunted by his past in both, this time with Marion Cotillard, and there is a similar quality to the image manipulation. Ultimately it’s the idea running through the plot that is so captivating. And while the characters interact in a dream, there are real and palpable dangers that they face that creates some terrific suspense. It’s not the greatest film ever, but for folks who loved The Matrix trilogy or Shutter Island, I would say that Inception is a must see.

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