Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

It's been awhile since I went to the movies, but the raves I heard about this film from a couple of fellow science fiction geeks seemed to make this film a must-see. I'm glad I listened. Inception is an inspired movie.

The trick with reviewing or recommending a seriously gimmicky SF movie is knowing how much you can or have to explain without blowing the whole thing. I'll make this simple: if you're not a fan of science fiction or movies with multiple timelines going on, you might want to pass. Imagine, if you will, technology (mysterious portable boxes and "compounds") that enable specially trained individuals to enter other people's dreams and then steal secrets out of their minds. That's the MacGuffin for this film. The visual effects involved in entering people's dreams are likewise mind-bending and worth seeing on the big screen.

But what makes this movie inspired is what writer-director Christopher Nolan does with it. He manages to incorporate dreams within dreams (and then some!). He plays with memories, with long-lost emotions, with the psychology and implications of manipulating others' minds. I was hooked.

The acting in this film, too, deserves special notice. Leonardo di Caprio, never a favorite of mine, has finally starred in a film that a) I wanted to see, but more importantly b) one in which he didn't just act like a Good Looking Movie Star. He manages to convey some serious acting chops as he deals with his rather shady line of business and complicated emotions related to his wife. His sidekicks are an interesting bunch of polished rogues who manage to come across as wholly developed personalities. Convincing acting matters in a complicated plot like this.

Another thing I enjoyed about Inception is the overall pace and tone of the story. The technologies (MacGuffin) are taken as givens in this "world." Aside from throwing in exposition to help the uninitiated get their bearings, the characters take the machinery for granted and focus more on doing their jobs. This is what some of the best SF does. Inception had the feel of a thriller/adventure written by Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, or Alfred Bester. It's set in our own world and time, more or less, but they're able to do these crazy things with dreams, and the audience is taken along for the ride to see what happens.

I envy Christopher Nolan's talent. That he's a year younger than me chafes only a wee bit. :-) My buddy Doc informs me that Nolan wrote this script as well as the scripts to both of his Batman films and Memento, which I have not seen but also dealt with a lot of scene/time-shifting. Nolan's two Batman movies are like Inception in that they concentrate on characters in extraordinary circumstances rather than on the machinery or externals that make the circumstances unusual (dream invasion, costumed superheroes). In this way he is able to tell better and more subtle stories than, say, James Cameron's heavy-handed Avatar, which is akin to a technophilic "message movie," which can get tiresome.

I look forward to seeing whatever Nolan comes up with next. He has made me a dedicated fan.

No comments: