Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception - A Review

Yes, I've finally decided to stop the Bliss theme. For now, that is. :)

The last film I caught at the cineplex was none other than the very enjoyable Iron Man 2. And as my work / family / social commitments continue to escalate, a trip to the theatre has become a major decision. So if I think a movie isn't worth the time or effort, I'm more than happy to wait for the DVD.

I didn't plan on watching Inception. It wasn't something I'd been anticipating with bated breath, though I did mark the release date in my diary.

And no, Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely not the main draw for me. Rather, it's director Christopher Nolan, whom I've worshipped since seeing the jaw-droppingly awesome Memento years earlier, followed by his next masterpiece, the best Batman installment thus far - The Dark Knight.

So what's the verdict, you ask? A rating of 8.5/10, compared to perfect 10's for Memento and The Dark Knight, to help you understand the comparison a little better.


I'm not the sort who enjoys rehashing plotlines, so let's just share opinions here.

The best thing about Inception - aside from its genius director / writer Chris Nolan - is the cast.

A true dream team led by DiCaprio, and beautifully supported by Marion Cotillard ( whose turn in La Vie En Rose haunts me to this day ), Cillian Murphy, and the massively talented but sorely underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

First, Leo DiCaprio. I've had mixed feelings about him for many years. Loved some of his work ( What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet, The Man In The Iron Mask, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator ), disliked some of it ( The Beach, Body Of Lies ), was relatively unaffected by Revolutionary Road and Blood Diamond, and couldn't get past the foul language in The Departed.

I also didn't enjoy watching him balloon in weight over the past decade.

So yes, I'm thrilled to see him back in top form, thanks in large part to Nolan's deft guidance ( he always draws the best performances from his actors ). Of course, the script already provides rich material for Leo to chew on, but his portrayal of Cobb is extremely admirable, so bravo for that.

Second, Marion Cotillard. I personally think she has the best role in the movie, despite not having the most screen time. I knew little about her character, Mal, before seeing Inception, so learning more about her as the story slowly unfolded added a lot to the overall enjoyment.

This is only the 4th Cotillard film I've watched, but her meteoric rise to fame in recent years is certainly well-earned. She always pours her heart and soul into every role she plays. And even though a distinctly foreign accent can sometimes prove an insurmountable obstacle in Hollywood, her skills as a thespian have practically wiped it out of the equation.

She looks really cool shooting a gun. Action flick in the works, I hope?
( A check with IMDB reveals perhaps the next best thing: yet another thriller about a disease outbreak, co-starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. Add a few shootouts please. :))

Third, Cillian Murphy. I'm not familiar with his work aside from the Batman movies and Red Eye, but couldn't be happier that Nolan picked him for a pivotal role here. Robert Fischer Jr, heir to a sprawling business empire, is tormented by his father's last words, yet compelled to follow in Fischer Sr's footsteps.

Cobb and team's assigned mission: to somehow convince Fischer Jr to tear this empire apart, by planting the idea in one of his dreams.

Which brings me to point #4 ( and don't worry, Joseph Gordon-Levitt will not be missed out :)).

The astounding script, written by Nolan himself.

Wachowski brothers, consider yourselves beaten to a pulp.

Sure, there's bound to be some comparison with The Matrix, but Inception doesn't need to rely on kungfu stunts and New Age mumbo-jumbo to hold an audience's attention.

Instead, we have fascinating conversations about the dream process, how we perceive our subconscious experiences, and the ability to train one's mind to defend itself against intruders.
In Nolan's world, dreams can have multiple levels, with the deepest ones lasting decades when in reality, only minutes have gone by.

My favourite plot ingredient: the "kick" - a failsafe method whereby dreamers can be awakened from even the most potent sedation. Usually preceded by a trigger - e.g. a particular piece of music - followed by a physical jolt of some kind, ranging from a simple chair tilt to driving your van off a bridge.

How bloody cool is that! :D

Fifth, the visual effects. They are fan-freaking-tastic. 2 in particular have stuck in my mind:

1) A scene where Cobb and young apprentice Ariadne ( Ellen Page ) practise constructing and manipulating dreamscapes. She manages to literally fold the scenery, so certain parts move vertically, and others turn upside-down.
My jaw dropped.

2) The final section of the film, where Cobb's team put Fischer Jr under, and move through each subconscious layer in turn. There's a thrilling car chase, a zero-gravity hotel scene, an avalanche, and to top it all off, a trip to Cobb's own secret world, where skyscrapers stretch as far as the eye can see.

And yes, sixth. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I know best from his teenage years on 3rd Rock From The Sun, and adorable performances in 10 Things I Hate About You and (500) Days Of Summer, has carved a career and gained a cult following from indie films, with very occasional forays into mainstream blockbusters.

As Cobb's right-hand man, Arthur, JGL is always dressed to the nines, his dark hair slicked back, his facial expression either serious or mildly irritated. His character may be a tad one-dimensional - most of the team members don't have much of a backstory - but his screen presence is clearly felt, and he is perfectly capable of holding his own against the likes of Leo, Cotillard and Ken Watanabe.

I am especially impressed with his gun skills. This dude has action star written all over him. He looks like a pro handling firearms. Someone please hand him a role that is worthy!

I guess my main complaint about Inception is the ending, which was a little abrupt. I understand what happened to Leo, but would've liked an explanation about Watanabe's character's fate as well - the latter was in major subconscious limbo, did he make it out with his mind intact?

Also, there were a few other plotlines I didn't fully comprehend, the biggest of which is Mal's descent into madness and suicide, apparently a direct result of Cobb's manipulation. Heavy stuff.

Overall, Inception was definitely not a waste of time, and I will watch it again once it hits cable. I'm quite surprised that the movie has stuck in my head for more than 24 hours, for reasons unknown. I just can't help replaying certain scenes over and over again in my head, as if there's some subliminal message embedded somewhere, making it impossible to erase the images from my mind.

Mr. Nolan, are you conducting an experiment of your own? :)

Whatever you do, DO NOT MISS THIS.


aliendoc said...

Watched it today & I think it was a brilliantly made movie, although the storyline didn't really reel you in till after the first 20 minutes (I actually felt like walking out!)

The ending: Sato (Watanabe's character) DID make it out with his senses intact. Remember the scene of them in the plane waking up & Sato proceeded to make that crucial phone call to clear Cobb's name?

Mal's suicide: In order to make Mal want to wake up from her dream state (where they remained for many years), Cobb had implanted the idea (while in the dream state) that in order to "wake up" from the dream state & return to reality, one had to "die" in his/her dream. After they woke up, this implanted idea remained in her brain hence resulting in her desire to commit suicide to "return to reality".

spacefan said...

Ahh, I get the explanation about Mal.:)

But Sato's phone call is just part of Cobb's dream right? Because the entire sequence from the airport to Cobb's return home to his children isn't real, since his totem - the spinning top - didn't stop spinning. It's supposed to stop if he's returned to reality.

Fun discussion. Your views? :)

aliendoc said...

I think the ending is deliberately ambiguous to make the audience think!

My impression was that the plane ride & airport etc were real.

And the scene at the end with the spinning totem was cut prematurely to give the impression that it MAY (or may not!) stop spinning!

I like happy endings so I like to think that he did reunite with his kids.


aliendoc said...

By the way, you didn't mention Tom Hardy (Eames) in your review. I liked his character - very cool & suave & a bit James Bond-ish, dontcha think?

He reminds me a bit of Kevin Costner (younger version of course).

spacefan said...

Yes, I like Hardy too, but not enough - yet. :)

Thought JGL made a huge impression here. I haven't seen his indie films so maybe that contributed to the wow factor.

Ellen Page's character seemed a bit redundant.

Nice thought about the ending. Just shows what a pessimist I am, assuming the worst, haha. :)

Unknown said...

Whose dream is it where Cobb meet up with an aged Sato towards the end of the show (or rather the beginning as well)? And which level of dream is it at?
Its just too complex to follow after the 3rd level. Maybe its Chris Nolan's trick to get us back in the cinema again...

spacefan said...

KC, I can only assume that dream is Cobb's "limbo" state - i.e. the point of no return, mentioned somewhere when the team was planning their heist and talking about the worst-case scenario.

Actually, I also couldn't figure whose dream each level belonged to.
In the last 30-45 minutes, there were times I thought we were in Arthur's / Ariadne's creations, but then Eames stepped in and changed something, so technically they're HIS dreams, right?

So confusing, but in a cool way. :)

Unknown said...

While searching for the truth behind the dream of dreams, I stumbled upon this:

Might explain a bit of the confusion.

spacefan said...

Wow, Ms Yamamoto is, like, my soul-mate! :)

BearDoc said...

Ellen Page is the current hot actress !! :P She's so cute! Loved her in Hard Candy too!

Because its Ellen Page, her character is not redundant. :D

Inception Fan said...

Inception on my Point of View deserves more immeasurable praise. C. Nolan with L. DiCaprio are just awesome!

karseng said...

hey...just watched Inception...a bit delayed i know
Agree with your rating that its an 8.5 compared to Memento's 10

Its been 5 yrs at least since i last watched memento and i still sometimes think about it and the ending/beginning of wat really happened!