Monday, December 6, 2010

New on DVD: "Inception," strong contender for Coolest Movie in a Long Damn Time

Leo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt conduct their own version of Operation: Mindcrime.
Christopher Nolan's incredifilm Inception hits DVD this week as a perfect accompaniment for all those new HDTVs, Blu-Ray players and surround sound systems you are all no doubt buying this Christmas. I have nothing but good things to say about this one. Behold, my original review from the July release.

Inception really is that good

Some flicks just have an air of destiny about them.

The idea sounds great, the cast and crew come together perfectly, the trailers strike just the right note of anticipation, and when the film finally rolls out for all to see, it turns out it really was the sublime experience everyone hoped it would be.

It’s rare that a film really does that. Films can be good, but not as great as you thought they would be, very often, but it takes something more for them to meet your every expectation. After all, in our minds there are no budget constraints, actors never make mistakes, and special effects look completely real.
It’s an even rarer occasion when a film exceeds your expectations, and rarer still that a film leaves you dumbfounded with a kind of gleeful sensory overload.

Inception, the latest offering from Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, is one of those films. In spite of a boatload of impossible expectations, this flick went far beyond my wildest dreams (pun definitely intended) of how great it could be.

It’s not just that this is a lovingly crafted, carefully designed and flawlessly executed exercise in filmmaking. This is a strikingly original piece of cinema, truly something you’ve never seen before, and that alone should be enough to get you marching to this particular drum.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are thieves of a very particular order. They don’t knock over casinos or museums. They invade dreams in search of world-changing ideas buried in the minds of corporate honchos. They do this because they are handsomely paid by other corporate honchos.

The process involves a technology called “shared dreaming,” in which several people are hooked up to the same sedation machine and simultaneously transported into a pre-designed dream world that is inhabited by figments of the dreamer’s subconscious (this all makes more sense when you see it, trust me). Once there, they find a way to get to the deepest and darkest part of that subconscious, where the secrets lie.

Cobb is good at his job, but he’s also on the run from his own past, and when an Asian tycoon (Ken Watanabe) offers him a chance at redemption through “one last job,” he jumps at it. But the job is anything but ordinary. This time it’s not about taking an idea out, but putting an idea in, something that becomes far more difficult when ensnared in the trappings of the mind.

To pull off this ambitious reverse-heist, Cobb and Arthur recruit brilliant young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) to design the dream world, and international charmer Eames (Tom Hardy) to rustle up a mass of deceptions, all to be placed inside the head of the heir to an international conglomerate (Cillian Murphy).

I’m stopping there, not just because I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but also because if I wanted to get into the intricacies of this flick’s plot, I’d need a whole book to do it. Nolan, already famous for his magnificently layered films (his breakout film Memento is a prime example) outdoes himself here, crafting a world that’s part reality, part dream, and part dream within a dream, each with its own carefully designed set of rules. 

It may seem a long shot, making a film built around the structure of a heist, which involves careful, logical planning, but set in the illogical and ever-shifting world of dreams. But the whole flick really does make sense, and Nolan achieves this by placing all the things we know about dreams into the context of his tale. Time moves differently, the subconscious intrudes on logic, and everything seems to revolve around the dreamer. All this not only grounds the film, but also makes it believable. Believe me when I tell you that this does not feel like science fiction. 

The realism is heightened by Nolan’s use of special effects. Though what you see is mindbending, never does it feel contrived or intended to impress. It’s all simply part of the world you’ve been pushed into. Cities bend in half, freight trains fly through taxi-packed streets, people spin through hallways in zero gravity, but never during any of that does it feel like Nolan is shouting “Look at me! Look at how cool this is!” It’s all woven into the fabric.

The acting is, put simply, top notch. DiCaprio manages to be psychologically complex without seeming melodramatic, Gordon-Levitt is super-spy cool, Page is alternately curious and wise at all the right times. You don’t feel like you’re watching movie stars cavorting about the blockbuster-scape, and that’s a miracle in itself.

But what’s most brilliant about his treasure of a movie is the way reality almost becomes a character itself. Nolan makes much of the difference between what’s real and what’s not, and is careful to note that as we’re dreaming nothing seems illogical. “Inception” is a film that plays with this concept like no other, bending and shaping reality in layers and shadows into a funhouse of the mind. Never once is the plot, the pace or the conceptual solidity lost in all the smoke and mirrors, and yet by the end you’re still left with a dizzying sense of openness, as if you’re still waiting to wake up. 

Matt’s Call: The best movie of the year so far by leaps and bounds, and nothing slated to come out later this year looks like it will even come close (The Social Network has since forced me to revise this opinion, but not much.). It’s as good as you heard it was, and better. All that’s left is for you to see it.

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