Saturday, July 24, 2010
out of my dreams
Reviews are bipolar.
When written well, they are essay gems. Their value: intrinsic.
But, when the bell is not rung, they are no better than the drunk's opinion at the far end of your neighborhood bar.
For the past four months, I have been a regular patron of one of those new "watch and eat" cinemas. The type of theater where you can eat expensive, mediocre food while watching expensive, first-run films of varying quality.
The last month or so, I have seen trailers for Inception. From the previews, it looked like another simple-minded vehicle to show off computer-generated special effects. You know: another Matrix 2 and 3. And I had little desire to see it.
On Sunday, I read a review of the film in The Economist that changed my mind. The reviewer concluded that even though the special effects are stunning, the script is even better.
So, off I went on Thursday night to eat my sloppy Lawrence of Arabia sandwich and watch Inception. The meal was not memorable; the film is.
If exposition in films makes you antsy, this is not the film for you. The story is based around Christopher Nolan's infatuation with the humand mind -- especially, its memory function. His Memento is a classic of the genre. And without a good deal of actor talk-talk-talk, there would be no story to tell.
Nolan has crafted a story that keeps the viewer's senses honed. Clues are everywhere. But attention must be paid.
The tale is heroic and classic. Odysseus simply wanting to go home, but faced, instead, with the challenges of his life. Now, transport the quest from the Aegean to the human mind.
Our hero, Dom Cobb, is a master of extraction. He can enter another person's mind and steal secrets. But, he takes on an even more difficult task, to plant an idea in another person's head and have the person believe it is their own idea. If he succeeds, he will be able to return home.
The script plays off of recent research about the mind -- and how little we know about it. Too often, film makers create a world with apparent rules and then violate those rules with abandon if they need to take a short cut.
Not Nolan. He respects his audience enough that if a rule is stated, he will obey its consequences, even if it complicates the story. Just like life.
Nolan combines his clever writing with stunning visuals. Each layer of the target's mind is represented by different locations. And they all appear familiar -- because they reconstruct the manner in which we dream.
Because a lot of the scenes are in a dream world, they need to be created with computer graphics. However, one major scene is a throw back to Fred Astaire's famous dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding.
Using a gimbal-based set and wires, the actors appear to be fighting and surviving in a world where the laws of gravity have been amended. In my opinion, that old visual trick is more effective than the computer-generated images.
The cast is perfect for this film. Leonardo DiCaprio has always been a cerebral actor. Far better suited to roles like this than his teen-throb attempts.
Nolan even plays on memory with his casting. Everyone immediately recognizes Michael Caine. But you can almost hear the audience digging through their memory trunks trying to recall where they have seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom, Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Ellen Page. With great performances by each.
This is the type of film Matrix (and its progeny) could have been if the writers had realized at the start that the very concept of their film would negate its story.
Inception is one of those films people will be buzzing over for some time.
I am glad I listened to the reviewer.