Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) DVD Review

First of all, lets get any notion of this being original out of the way. Anime, slashers and porn have all got in on the idea of entering dreams before Inception did. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Chuck Russell, 1987), Dream Master: The Erotic Invader (Jackie Garth, 1997) and Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006) are the imagineers and none of them turn into a Bond inflected heist movie halfway through. For all the talk of Inception being a blockbuster with brains it's really just an efficient construction of style masquerading intelligence with complex exposition, and the final hour is more of an extended action sequence than an exploration of theme. I wasn't expecting an art movie going into Inception but I was expecting something a little more than talking heads playing with sleepy time. But with the absence of Jonathan Nolan as a writer, that's exactly what Chris delivers...

Which isn't to say that Inception is bad. Shot by Wally Pfister, the film is technically impressive. Reliant on moody shading (grey and blue), the colour scheme evokes the same kind of intensity as Nolan's previous work and the lighting captures most of the locations beautifully. Hans Zimmer may be recycling the Dark Knight's (Nolan, 2008) score, but he's doing a damn good job of it - underscoring all of the action beats with pulse-pounding aplomb. The central problem with Inception is that it impressed me more than it engaged me. At the moment where I needed to be on the edge of my seat, fearing for the fate of a character, I was wondering how Nolan and co. technically achieved the gravity free fight sequences or the demolition of a snow bound communication centre. None of the characters have a background, a future or even a detectable personality. Their relationships are left unspoken of, their pasts with each other unexplored. It's to be taken for granted that their connections are real and hold weight, because there's far too much mechanical jargon to be discussed. Even the over-extended and frankly absurd subplot of Cobb's (DiCaprio) wife is surrounded by techno-speak of how she's trapped in a dreamworld decades old. The emotional axis of the film is merely further exposition - rather than acting as a romantic character, Mal (Cotillard) is an easy way of explaining what happens inside a dream. She's not a real person. She's a walking plot device. The same can be said of Ariadne (Ellen Page) who at one point literally asks "wait, whose subconscious are we entering?" That's not entrusting an audience with intelligence, it's reminding them to keep up.

At the time of Inception's much applauded release, many began comparing Nolan to Alfred Hitchcock. In terms of innovation and mastery of craft, there is nothing but hyperbole in these statements. There is, however, a point worth making. It could be said that Hitch made twenty identical films and twenty films that were different - but they were the same twenty. What I mean by this is that most of his films were different stories based on the same theme - that of identity, and ordinary men being thrown into extraordinary situations, and left to deal with it. Most of his acclaimed works are variations on that setup - the theme of identity taken from several angles. In the same way, Nolan has always made films about memory and obsession - and the lengths people will go to for the sake of them. Inception is no different and this is his most epic excursion into that theme yet - the typical setup taken from the angle of subconscious and invasion. The difference between this and Following (1998) is about $160,000,000.

All of this sounds like I'm just slagging Nolan off, but I'm not. I love The Prestige (2006) and enjoyed The Dark Knight (2008) and it excites me that he's at least trying to do something different and be visually interesting. But I do feel that this film has recieved praise in areas it does not deserve and this review was an attempt to highlight them, and provoke discussion. The influence of James Bond, especially in the opening set-piece and the snowy finale, is undeniable and while this makes for an exciting ride (thankfully for that overlong running time the film has a breakneck pace) it also deviates from the central idea that is apparently so well presented. The shootouts are efficiently handled and well shot, with Nolan finally getting a firm grip on the mechanics of action cinema (which Batman Begins, 2005, failed to do). It's a slick, polished ride with some exciting set-pieces but in almost every other department it falls a little short. DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt, Cotillard and Murphy are all great actors, but they are given woefully little material to work with here. The best performance by a mile is delivered by Tom Hardy, who is hopefully one of the emerging stars of our time. A knockout in Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008) and TV series The Take (David Drury, 2009), he's a charismatic and controlled screen presence. Nolan has apparently cast him in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) which, frankly, can only be a good sign...

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, really well written with some great points. I like that you focussed on the points of the film that are never brought up rather than praising it once more like everyone else, the film has enough praise so its fair to have its detractors too....not that you didnt enjoy it of course.

    I must say though that the reception of Inception irritates me, there are two types of fan it would seem. Nolan enthusiasts who praise Inception to the point of losing credit, and the purists who seem set on condescending Nolan for his efforts in mainstream cinema.

    My take on Nolan and his films is that he is without a doubt a mainstream director, he also is very clever and approaches his films with the same intensity that any auteur would. His films are very intelligent and well constructed and seem to focus on concepts rather than character but he never forgets the big picture. He makes sure his films are entertaining enough for mainstream audiences so as not to alienate them, it is through his films that many people will discover Kubrick and even Michael Mann as well as many others.

    I am not a Nolan fan boy but i dont have a bad word to say about him and his films, he isnt a sell out and he does what he does best. If he didnt exist, we'd have to invent him because he is single handedly saving mainstream cinema and changing it for the better with his influence.

    There is no point in people being annoyed because he has big action sequences and dumbs down parts on purpose, if he didnt he wouldnt be in the position he is now.

    Love or hate Inception it has sent a message out into every fan, producer, director, and studio. Audience want intelligent and well constructed entertainment as well as spectacle. 200mil films don't have to be dumb anymore...Inceptions influence will be around for man many more years to come.

    This is just my two cents on what i think is a big misconception of Nolan and his films, this isn't aimed at you by the way. :)