Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Perchance Even to Dream of a Great Film

Note: This review was hastily written before work.

I find that my respect for movie critics grows when I realize that many of them review a movie after only one viewing. Granted, the smart and insightful ones take notes, perhaps even take a few moments to reflect and think before beginning to set their opinions to page. Some, such as the especially ubiquitous as of late Roger Ebert, will even revisit their critiques of the film some years later, after time, multiple viewings, and public opinion have colored or changed their own opinion, or encouraged them to reexamine their views with the glasses of a new era.

When I first left the theatre after seeing The Dark Knight bright and early one Sunday morning, my passion for what I had just seen swelled and grew as I walked to church. I raved about it to my friends there, trying to explain the emotional impact of one particular character's story arch without giving away too much to those who wouldn't see it coming. The movie practically had me in tears. However, subsequent viewings of The Dark Knight have left me sort of cold. Logic holes jump out at me, I am annoyed by the gratuitous explosions. I still think it's a very good movie...but my heart is barely in it.

I say this to express my trepidation at writing a review of a movie that I have thus far only seen once: Inception. This highly anticipated movie has for a while been whispered to be the new Matrix. I questioned from the get-go whether or not any film by an already highly acclaimed director, that has generated a ton of buzz could be another Matrix, as part of the beauty and amazement of the Matrix was that it came out of nowhere, with its enigmatic trailers, low-budget, no-name directors...and completely knocked America out of its seat by doing things and asking questions that mainstream cinema hadn't found fashionable to do in quite some time, while also kicking butt in ways we hadn't yet seen before. Despite the fact that many saavy film watchers can see the many influences in the Wachowski brothers' film - from comic books to Japanese cinema - the movie gave you something that felt really new and fresh.

Inception, like the Matrix, is a movie about questioning reality. When I sat down to see the film, I wondered what Christopher Nolan could throw at me that I wouldn't expect. I feel that in the decade since the Matrix came and blew our minds, we the audience are used to having our understandings of reality challenged and questioned. We're waiting for plot twist for "ah-ha!" questions, "Woah dude, that's so, like, deep" moments. I wasn't sure if Mr. Nolan could add anything new to the pot and still keep me guessing.

I remained skeptical through the first half of the movie, though I remained acceptably interested. Leonardo DiCaprio, often maligned for his boyish good looks, manages to appear aged and worn down throughout the film. "Dude looks, tired," I couldn't help but think during the opening sequences. Even as his backstory (sometimes rather clunkily) unfolds during the progression of the film, DiCaprio maintains a believable look of someone in utter despair. You root for him just so he can get that look off of his face.

Much of the exposition that is necessary for a complex tale such as the one in Inception feels a little heavy handed and clunky; it was all of these explanations and explanations of rules and explanations of the concepts of mind infiltration that fueled my doubts even as the film was progressing. The actual plot of the film, the goal of these mind criminals (I won't tell you much more about the actual plot), seems small and arbitrary though the story tries, semi-successfully, to get you emotionally invested in the target's life. Cillian Murphy, the mark, if you would, is excellent with just the few lines he's been given. His facial expressions, full of a weariness that nearly parallel DiCaprio's, are the only thing that makes this plot worth caring about. In fact, most of this film is carried along on the strength of the cast.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page almost look to young to be caught in such a dangerous world...but Gordon-Levitt's character is an old hat, slick and almost too-competent at his job. Page is a master at playing the worldly-wise not-so-innocent, and she handles her job of emotionally arm-wrestling with her mentor, DiCaprio, quite deftly. There are so many talented names in the movie it seems a shame to not focus entire reviews on each performance: The enigmatic Ken Watanabe, effervescent Marion Cotillard, reliable Michael Caine, and of course, Tom Hardy - he's the most upbeat note in this otherwise weary film. In less capable hands, the movie could have fallen apart beneath the pressures of the darkness and the layers and layers of exposition, but it manages to hold together, drawing me in just as I begin to get disappointed with the pacing and the laborious story telling. All of the seeds that Nolan plantys finally begin to unfold towards the end and once you see this concept and idea he's created fully blossom, you can't help but sit back and be in awe.

As with most of Nolan's films, from Memento to the aforementioned Dark Knight, my feelings for Inception may change after I see it again. And with so many layers and hints and splattered clues, subsequent viewings will be necessary in order to fully unlock everything that happens on screen. Regardless of how I feel about it after that point, I can safely say that this is the best movie I've seen so far this year.

...though David Slade's take on Twilight: Eclipse comes in at a solid second. :)