Vantage point

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review of Inception

SPOILER COMMUNIQUE - In this review I will not give away what I think are the "spoilers". I put the word in quotes, because I don't think the movie can really be spoiled anyway. Nolan has moved beyond the "Ah ha! The doctor is his mother!" type of spoilers that Scorsese still seemed to clutch on to in Shutter Island. As Roger Ebert said in his review of Inception - "Here is a movie immune to spoilers: If you knew how it ended, that would tell you nothing unless you knew how it got there. And telling you how it got there would produce bafflement."

Inception is a movie set mostly in dreams, and as Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) says, a dream you think lasts for hours might have come to you in just minutes of sleep. So throughout the movie, there are different recursive timelines that co-exist. Appropriately, time-wise, the movie itself operates like a dream, because despite being quite lengthy, 2.5 hours, time seems to fly.

The set-up of the movie itself is not very complicated. The idea is that if you want to extract information from someone, get into their dreams. That's what Cobb does. He is into corporate espionage, getting into the dreams of CEO types to extract information. His associate is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who for me will always be Tommy from 3rd Rock from the Sun). They are attempting to extract information from Saito (Ken Watanabe), almost succeed after great difficulty, but fail due to a small error by the architect. Then the guys who hired them are after them, when Saito comes to rescue them.

Saito offers them a deal - you guys do extraction. I want you to do the exact opposite, an "inception". Which means, planting an idea in someone's brain, making them think it's their idea in the first place. That someone is Saito's competitor Robert Fischer, played by Cillian Murphy, who finally gets to display his acting prowess beyond just playing Scarecrow in Batman movies.

It seems that inception is much harder to do than extraction. But Cobb has done it before. So he embarks on a quest to do that, enlisting the help of the brilliantly named (look it up) Ariadne (Ellen Page) an architecture student of his father-in-law.

As a noob, Ariadne serves as a proxy for us, the ignorant audience, as Cobb goes about explaining the concepts integral to invading dreams and manipulation. Halfway into the movie, we know all the basic principles. We also know that Cobb has a troubled past. A past that compromises his ability to do all that he wants to in the dreamworld. A past that plays a role at critical junctures throughout the movie. And a past which gets unraveled in parallel, and is equally important to, if not more than, the main storyline.

The way the protagonist's past runs in parallel to the main story is a narrative device that Nolan particularly loves. He used it in Memento, and in Prestige. And now he's used it in Inception. But in a very different way than before. And even though you will have theories and guesses about what will happen in the end, the complexity of the narrative is such that, even if you were kinda-sorta on the right track, you get blown away by the final revelations. Just like in those other movies. That is the magic of Nolan's non-Batman movies. And this one, he's been working on for a decade, and it shows, in a good way.

On to performances. DiCaprio does a splendid job with a difficult role. I hope he wins an Oscar for it. But as a DiCaprio fan, I got a strong sense of deja vu, because he has played this tough-hero-with-a-troubled-past role too often. He has aced it, but I'd like to see something else. How about a movie with Ben Stiller? See what it did for Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr!

Ellen Page does her part, but Nolan didn't really give her character too much complexity. So if you're looking for a Juno-level home run, you won't get it. Watanabe's character has shades, going from adversary-victim to friend-victim, and he manages all the shades with his usual ease. The rest of Cobb's team does a good job too (although why get a dude named Dilip Rao and make him play Yousuf?).

But for me, the biggest surprise triumph was Cillian Murphy. He plays a tycoon heir with daddy issues. issues that get teased and prodded in his dreams, demanding that he walk a tightrope in his portrayal. He strides it with grace, and comes out with a performance that should at the very least get a Best Supporting Actor nod. And lead to many more richer roles for him in the future.

To conclude, the final scene of the movie. Obviously, I will not tell you what it is, or tip my hand in any way. I'll just say it was beautifully conceived and executed. can't think of a better way to end the movie. And it ended at the perfect point in time, down to the right millisecond. Even though the groans in the cinema hall will suggest that everyone else would have wanted it to last 2 seconds more. But that's Nolan.