It would take a lot to convince me, at this point in his career, that Christopher Nolan was NOT a genius. We see shades of it in The Dark Knight and in Insomnia, but a film like Inception really shows it to us in its full glory.
I believe that Nolan is invested in his Batman trilogy, because a man like him can never do anything he’s not completely invested in; but I believe he’s using the power, the clout he gets from those films to be able to work on his passion projects on a scale that allows him to bring them to life they way they deserve.
Inception works on a number of levels for this film fan, which I guess is sort of the whole point. The first time through, this movie was a twisting, turning labyrinth from which my mind barely escaped. Barely escaped, but left a red string in its path for me to follow the second time around. The details in this movie, the things to watch for are mind numbing and there are literally dozens of websites dedicated to keeping track of all the clues to the very frustratingly incredible ending. I didn’t bother with all of that, the first time through, I was too busy keeping track of who was dreaming what.
On my second watching of the film, there was little-to-no confusion. Once that veil had been lifted, I saw that this was really a kick-ass heist movie with some great action. The Brits have a reputation for being stuffy, and held back. Stiff-upper lip and all of that; but lately, at the movies, it feels to me like the best action directors are British. The only American contributions I can name off the top of my head are Michael Bay and Sylvester Stallone. Do either of those inspire confidence?
Nolan understands what makes a great fight, and yes wire fights are pretty to look at, but a real good fight is dirty, close, and quick. That’s what we get with Inception even when the occasional wire is put into use. The action is fast, hard, and ugly. Nothing about it feels choreographed. That’s thanks to Nolan’s mastery.
So we have our third level of my appreciation for this flick. For all the strange sights, the faulty logic of dreams, very little CG work was actually done. Christopher Nolan, you see, prefers to use practical effects, and Einstein bless him for it. There’s a laziness that pervades Hollywood these days (not that I’m saying CG is necessarily easy, mind you), a feeling that it would be better to make look like they did something that to actually do something. I, for one, and really beginning to miss practical effects.
I’m not demonizing CG, it can be very useful and do great things (Jurassic Park), but why rely on that when you can build a hallway that rotates, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt (isn’t he dreamy?) can do battle with the mark’s subconscious? You can’t answer, exactly, because you know that scene kicked 9 separate kinds of ass!
And I’ve breached the subject, so now I’d better just talk about it, get it over with. I’ll start by saying that I am straight. Got it? Okay. I have huge heterosexual-man-crushes on both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. So imagine my thrill in having the two of them in one film! Not only that, but they are both in top form. Gordon-Levitt is the perfect choice for Leonardo DiCaprio’s right hand man, the man who walks us, the audience, through the rules of the dreams as he explains them to my regular crush, Ellen Page. He exudes old-school cool, while being the very epitome of a modern man. A pitch perfect performance.
Tom Hardy, cast as the con-man/forger Eames, was an inspired choice, given the actor’s ability to inhabit every role he plays and completely become that character. I’ve never seen him play the same person twice, even though I’ve seen him play 3 different musclebound-angry-violent characters. And then to see him trade barbs with JGL, it was like they were fighting over who got to be my best friend. Don’t worry guys, you can both be my best friend.
Ellen Page does a great job of going toe-to-toe in several scenes with not just DiCaprio, but also the very French Marion Cotillard, which is extra impressive when you realize that Page is only 5’1″ and Canadian. She serves a similar purpose in this film as Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman both did for Christian Bale in the Batman movies. She provides the very thing they need (a maze), while counseling our hero (Leo) on the right moral decisions. Seriously, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, those are some mighty big shoes to fill, especially for a tiny little Canuck, but she pulls it off without any of snark that I had expected, from some of her previous roles.
Michael Caine does make an appearance, of course, because Christopher Nolan, but it’s a small role that could have easily been played by anyone. Even this guy. Ken Watanabe is the money man and all I can say is I hope to see him in many more movies. Rounding out the cast, and I mean that literally (lady is busty!) is Marion Cotillard as Leo DiCaprio’s dead wife, reborn in his subconsciousness. Hers is the most emotional role, and as expected, she pulls it off with aplomb. She is both terrifying and terrifically fragile all at once, and it is something to behold.
Finally I want to talk about the score. It’s not something I’ll always talk about, but dammit, Hans Zimmer’s score makes me practically shit my pants. It’s just that good. It’s so perfectly in-tuned to the emotional experience of the film; it becomes a physical part of the movie. It is jarring, beautiful, exciting, uplifting, and very scary. It’s the one Christopher Nolan/Hans Zimmer collaboration soundtrack that I don’t own, and that saddens me. I will be fixing that later today.
And now, a gripe: Cillian Murphy is a fantastic actor. He can terrorize with the best of them, and make the ladies swoon with that lantern-shaped jaw of his, but I felt like he was just underwhelming this time around. He was a piece of scenery, when he could have been acting circles around Leo.