Movie Review: Inception
By Tom Houseman
July 18, 2010
God bless you, Christopher Nolan. Two years ago you made one of the most remarkable, interesting, complex Hollywood blockbusters in history - The Dark Knight, a superhero movie with ideas and complex relationships and fascinating characters to go along with the big explosions. Not only that, but you made a movie that made more money in the United States than any movie not made by James Cameron. The sky was the limit for you. You could have become another Hollywood hack, directing sequels and remakes and sleeping in piles of gold-plated money. That’s what everyone else has done, including Gore Verbinski, Roland Emerich, Michael Bay, John Turtletaub, even Peter Jackson and George Lucas. You could have joined their ranks, churning out Hollywood garbage, disappointing your millions of fans.
And what did you do instead, Chris? You challenged yourself. You challenged yourself to make something better, something more complex, more powerful, more surprising and challenging than your last film. And you rose to the challenge, and you cleared the hurdle easily. God bless you, Christopher Nolan, for making what just might be the best Hollywood blockbuster of all time.
How did you do it? You did it by not making anything easy. Inception is an incredibly intricate film, one that dares its audience to not just go along for the ride, but to dig in, pull apart the pieces and try to catch everything you hurl at them. Some of your pitches are Randy Johnson level fastballs, while others are Tim Wakefield knuckleballs, dipping and twisting at the last minute into unexpected territory. Nothing about Inception is straightforward or easy or obvious. You never spoon-feed the audience, and that might scare some people, or confuse them or even turn them away. But for anyone willing to attack this movie with the same level of fervor that it attacks them, it will be a remarkable and wholly worthwhile experience.
I like to think of Inception as a companion piece to your breakthrough film Memento. That film is about manipulating the mind through memory, while Inception is about manipulating the mind through dreams. Cobb is a thief who is able to enter and manipulate people’s dreams to extract their secrets. A mysterious businessman hires Cobb for a seemingly impossible task: it is called Inception, planting an idea in someone’s mind through their dreams so that they think they came up with it on their own. Cobb must enter the dreams of a young CEO to implant an idea, but once inside he and his team find that their mission is far more difficult than they could have imagined.
Chris, you made your name by grounding a superhero in reality, and Batman Begins is renowned for its realistic approach to the genre. With Inception, you obviously throw logic to the wind, creating a plot that is completely unrealistic, and yet you manage to do it in a way that makes it seem so real, which is what makes your film so powerful. How did you do it? Through the characters. There is no larger than life hero in this film. Cobb is a normal man, an intelligent but emotionally crippled man with good and bad qualities. The same thing goes for every character, no matter how small. There is no villain, or comic relief sidekick, or sexy love interest. Every single character seems like a real person, and that sense of realism lends a crucial gravity to your film.
Inception might also be the best cast film in history. You picked the perfect actor to play every part, which kept the film grounded in reality while the plot flew off the walls into outrageousness. Every performance is understated. There is no scenery chewing or scene stealing, just honest performances from a group of incredibly talented actors, featuring Leonardo Dicaprio as Cobb, Marion Cotillard as his dead wife who haunts his dreams, Ken Watanabe as the man who hires him, Cillian Murphy as the mark, Ellen Page as the young architect Cobb hires, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobb’s right-hand man. These are some of the best actors of our generation and they each create their characters perfectly. With lesser actors, this movie could have been laughable, but their performances make every scene perfect, moving, heartbreaking.
This is your show, Chris, and my God is it a great one. It’s the first movie you’ve written by yourself since Following and your trademark time bending is used so effectively that while it is difficult to keep track of everything that is going on - and it will certainly require more than one viewing to catch every detail - you don't lose your audience. You are the leader of this circus and we are running to catch up to you while we spin in circles, trying to take in the splendor of the world you have created. People say that George Lucas destroyed Hollywood when he made movies all about spectacle, leaving storytelling and character in the dust. Is this your Star Wars, Chris? Are you trying to take back Hollywood, turn it into a place of thought provoking, challenging, breathtaking cinema? If anyone can do it, it’s you. God bless you, Christopher Nolan.