Thursday, 22 July 2010

Inception (12A)

Amidst the barrage of accolades currently being bestowed upon Christopher Nolan’s latest, one rather obvious point appears to have gone largely unmentioned; that The Dark Knight (2008) was no fluke. After all, every director is allowed at least one masterpiece, but one need only consider Tarantino’s career post-Pulp Fiction (1994) to see that a single magnum opus does not a great director make. No, the real talent is in remaining consistent and if Inception is anything to go by, Batman 3 is gonna be a real doozy.

Despite the summer release and a $160 million budget, Inception is about as high brow as blockbusters get. A philosophically charged heist flick-cum-sci-fi actioner, this is less about blowing away buildings than the viewer’s brain matter. Forgive the hyperbole, but this isn’t so much a film as an experience. As flashbacks within flashbacks occur alongside dreams within dreams, it makes Memento (2000) look like a Mr. Men novel. Actually, it isn’t anywhere near as confusing as it sounds, providing you actually pay attention. It may not match the multi-layered brilliance of his Batman sequel, but then again it isn’t meant to. Despite the obvious potential of a story inside the mind, this is neither a Freudian exploration of the human psyche or a Descartian dissection on the nature of reality. Although this will no doubt come as anathema to the pretentious types eager to apply their own post-modernist interpretations, Nolan’s real concern is happiness and what we are willing to do to achieve that.

It’s unfortunate that TDK invites so many comparisons, but there is no denying that at least visually Nolan has far surpassed himself. The messy fight sequences from Batman Begins are a thing of the past as here the camera sweeps in and around the action with almost perfect ease. A thrilling chase on-foot echoes that of Casino Royale (2006) while the image of a freight train stampeding through the rain-soaked streets is a masterclass in stylistic cool. Although the frequent slo-mo effects threaten to veer into Matrix territory, very little of what we see is for aesthetic purposes only. It’s a testament to Nolan’s self control and maturity that the dream world remains largely grounded in realism. Folding cityscapes aside, Inception avoids the abstract surrealism which plagues so many films of this ilk, The Cell (2000) being the most obvious culprit. Of course, a film’s credibility often rests upon its stars and it’s no coincidence that while the latter starred the barely relevant Jennifer Lopez, here we have a far more capable line-up of stars; Ellen Page finally ditches her obnoxious Juno (2008) persona in favour of a meatier role and Tom Hardy, who gave a phenomenal performance in TV drama The Take (2009), here gives us a tantalising glimpse of a possible future Bond. Yet it’s DiCaprio who really shines, reprising his troubled Shutter Island (2009)persona as if to finally lay to rest the poster boy image of his Titanic days.

Inception then is two things; both an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that demands repeat viewings and confirmation of Nolan’s standing as the greatest director of our generation. Need proof? He manages to reinvent the ‘It was all a dream’ ending, and nobody bats an eyelid. Now when was the last time someone got away with that?


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Heat (1995) ***
The Matrix (1999) ****
The Dark Knight (2008) *****