Perhaps the most important leap any budding film buff makes is the jump from selecting films to watch on the basis of the director rather than the cast they feature. No matter how talented your favourite thespian is, and no matter how carefully they pick their roles, they can still appear in some right old dogs. Hence would-be cinephiles soon learn that the only reliable indicator of a film’s quality is who is sat in the director’s chair. But Hollywood being the circus of insanity it is, even reliable auteurs can stumble and fall flat on their faces, whether through studio execs interfering or plain old creative exhaustion.
Of the current crop of young directors, there are few who can boast of a strike rate as impressive as Christopher Nolan. From an impressive debut with Following in 1998, he has produced a string of modern classics, and while his often strangely twisting movies may not be to everybody’s taste there can be no question of the talent, intelligence and original vision emanating from behind the camera. Nolan has the full package of directorial chops; he gets brilliant performances from his casts, he crafts wonderful visuals, he understands the value of polishing and refining a script until it sparkles, and he’s equally at home filming intricate emotional drama as he is grand action set pieces.
However after the stellar success that was The Dark Knight, could Nolan pull it off again? Although his reputation and critical credit provide him with a decent layering of armour against the dread curse of studio inference, it’s not unusual for a director to fumble the ball after the gruelling process of bringing a blockbuster into the world. But one of the key skills for any director is meticulous planning, and Inception has been in the pipeline for a long time – apparently Nolan penned a first draft about in the late ‘90s – so this is not the usual quickly thrown together little film that post-big feature directors employ as a creative palate cleanser.
And in short, Inception is another triumph for him. The Dark Knight was hailed as a masterpiece but I think Inception tops it. While his second Batman movie is a tremendous piece of cinema, Inception is actually tighter and deeper. One viewing isn’t really enough for me to be able to rate it against his other films but I think it’s safe to say that whatever your favourite Nolan flick is, Inception will be providing a strong challenge from the crown.
However it is also a real bugger to review. The nature of the film’s story and the way the narrative is layered make it very hard to write any sort of spoiler free review – as Lee from The Black Dog has remarked in both the most recent episode of that show and his review on GeekPlanetOnline, the best way to see Inception is to go in knowing as little as possible. Watch the trailers by all means – which give little away other than the basic premise and a hint of the flavour of the film – but no more!
So avoiding all discussion of what actually happens in the film, what can I safely tell you? Well I would’t normally be jumping to the conclusion of the review so soon but - just go and see it! Seriously – go as soon as you can! This is a high recommend!
You want more detail? Ok then - be prepared for a mind bending ride, but also be ready for a complex and emotionally charged story. With The Dark Knight Nolan demonstrated that an action and FX heavy fantastic story didn’t just have to be brainless eye candy, and that the tropes of the superhero genre could be used to tell an intelligent story focused as much on moral complexity and the depths of the human heart as well as Zap! Pow! antics. And Inception takes this melding of thrilling action with narrative and character depth to another level.
As well as some extremely well-thought out science fiction concepts and eye popping action, Inception has an absorbing psychological storyline. It’s a film that operates on many different levels all at the same time, with Nolan effortless orchestrating stunning thrills, amazing cinematics, an intricate plot and strong characters. And while the big sci-fi ideas presented are very beguiling and intelligently thought out, the real strength of the film is in its characters and their interactions.
And it has to said that Nolan has assembled a top notch cast for this outing. Inception is packed with wonderfully performances, but it’s hard to single any one out over another as they work together so well as an ensemble – plus it’s hard to say much about the acting without giving away plot spoilers. Suffice to say then everybody shines in this film – Nolan really knows how to direct actors and Inception has a marvellous ensemble feel to it as a consequence.
Now the film does have a long running time but the hours really do fly by. I was honestly stunned to discover it had clocked in at two and half hours long - yes, I spoiler dodged so much I went in not even knowing the running time - as the story had so thoroughly drawn me into its world. Although we are only just past the half way mark, I am tempted to hail Inception as one of the films of the year.
However, I do think that Inception probably won’t work for every one. As with any film with a twisty turny narrative, there are going to some who will delight in find alleged plot holes and logic lapses, but I think in the case of Inception this is will an exercise in splitting hairs, if not an exercise in finding faults to counter the hyperbole this movie is generating.
And undoubtedly some will be confused, if not annoyed, by its complexities, particularly those drawn in expecting something more in line with your usual summer blockbuster. But that said, I had similar concerns about The Dark Knight being too cerebral for the popcorn munching crowd, but in the end turned out to be quite unfounded considering the wide acclaim and extremely healthy box office returns. But hopefully the average movie goer will surprise us all again with an appetite for the intelligent thrills and sophisticated story telling delivered by Inception.
This is a film that deserves to seen - and I say again go see it as soon as you can. Films that can deliver action and thrills with such intelligence and panache deserve to be supported.
UPDATE - There is also a prequel comic online, The Cobol Job, which can be found here. It doesn't contain any spoilers for the movie but I think that it reads better after you've it.
JIM MOON, 18th July 2010