Inception | Christopher Nolan, 2010
If you look at the top grossing films of the last few years, with the exception of Avatar, you’d have to go all the way to 2002 to find a non-franchise, big budget spectacle also was the top grossing movie of the year (the fact that it became a franchise is another matter). Before that, sequels rarely topped the list. This change happened because it seems that during the last few years, the movie business has been driven by remakes, sequels to popular movies, and sequels to movies from 20 years ago that people remember fondly. Not all of them are bad, but some originality was needed in Hollywood. Sure, there are a ton of creative mid-to-low budget movies, but Hollywood doesn’t gamble on these types of movies any more, sadly.
But, as we all know, with the success of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan had Warner Bros. wrapped around his little finger, and he took that opportunity, and got them to give him 200 million dollars to do a cerebral sci-fi movie set in the world of dreams. It was a big gamble for the studio, but in the end, it paid off, not only in financial terms, but also in that Nolan delivered what may just be the most refreshing blockbuster of the last decade.
In Inception, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in an extractor, meaning that he goes into people’s dreams and steals their ideas at the request of whoever can pay the price. He does this with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a dreamer, which means that he dreams up what the people they are stealing from see. When the movie stars, they are trying to steal from Saito (Ken Watanabe), but everything goes wrong and he realizes what is going on. But he is intrigues by their work, and offers them a job, but one unlike anything they have ever done. He tells them that they have to perform inception, that is, planting an idea inside the mind of the heir to his biggest competitor, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), and in return he will use his powers to have Cobb’s charges that prevent him to return to the U.S. dropped so that he can return to his family. And so, he assembles a team of dreamers and architects, including Eames (Tom Hardy), and Ariadne (Ellen Page) to do the job. But in order to do it, he must face the demons of his past, mainly the memory of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).
Like every Nolan film post-Following, this movie is technically masterful and it shows that he knows how to spend his budget. His DP, Wally Pfister once again delivers beautiful cinematography that never calls attention on its self. Guy Hendrix Dyas was given the hard task of creating the world of the dream in a fantastical, but realistic manner that worked for the bennefit of the story. His designs are not as crazy as, say, The Cell, but they are as beautiful. Jeffrey Kurland’s threads are a great contemporary achievement. Lee Smith’s work as an editor must have been hard since he had to go back and forth seamlessly between different layers of the mind, but he managed to pass this task with flying colors. Hans Zimmer’s score, while overrated, still complements the story really well. And Nolan’s work as a director is one of the best score of the year. He managed to use the talent of all these people to create a very rare Hollywood movie, and to put them all to work towards his ambitious vision.
He also got the best out of his cast. No performance truly stands out, but overall the ensemble is rather amazing. Leonardo DiCaprio gives yet another great performance here as a guy ridden with guilt who is also trying to get back to his family after being force to be away for so long for something he did not do. Ma chere Marion Cotillard continues to prove she is one of the best actresses working today playing a sort of cold-hearted femme fatale. Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also very good on their own, but they have great chemistry together, which makes the movie so much more enjoyable. Ken Watanabe delivers, as always, but he’s not likely to top his great performance in Letter from Iwo Jima. And Ellen Page rounds up the ensemble well, but she didn’t really have much to do as she was pretty much an expositon machine, and there lies the biggest problem of the movie.
The script is still my favorite original script of the year so far (that goes to show it has not been a particularly strong year for script), mostly because of the story, its complexity, and the dialogue. But since it is so complex, it seems that Nolan felt that he had to fill most of the movie with exposition. In most movies most of the exposition happens during the first act of the movie, with the rest left for the unfolding of the events, but here, no matter how deep we get, they are still coming up with new rules and we learn more about DiCaprio’s character, and then new rules are brought up, etc. Most of this is told to Page’s character, which is why I said that she is just an exposition machine.
Despite this, I loved the movie a lot and it will likely end up in my top 10 of the year (no guarantees, though). Not only is it terrific entertainment, but it is also food for thought. I do hope that the success of this movie makes studios gamble more on original projects, as that is what Hollywood needs right now.