Christopher Nolan is fast becoming synonymous with quality. So great is the man’s ability, so great is his understanding of cinema, that watching him develop on screen has been an absolute pleasure. From relatively humble beginnings (Following) to blockbuster box-office success (The Dark Knight) he has proven himself to be a filmmaker bursting with ideas, brimming with intelligence and contagious enthusiasm.
With The Dark Knight, Nolan crafted a blockbuster that was so good it almost came as a culture shock; audiences had been fed so much Hollywood dross that the word ‘blockbuster’ was starting to become almost pejorative, and yet suddenly here was a picture with ideas as bold, bright and explosive as the explosions themselves. Inception is the film that Nolan has always wanted to make. And now, on the back of The Dark Knight’s monumental success, he has made it at long last. And Warner Bros should be praised for giving this man free reign, for not limiting him, for not chastening his imagination, because Inception is a cinematic rarity.
Quite how all of this came together is anyone’s guess, but the vision was clear in Nolan’s mind at least, and that was enough. Heaven knows it’s taken long enough to get this on the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio (in the lead role) said that he barely understood the script the first time he read it, but he simply knew that he wanted to be involved. It would be remiss of me to elaborate too much on the story here – going in with as little prior knowledge as possible is advisable – but to briefly surmise: DiCaprio plays Cobb, an ‘Extractor’ working for a firm who want him to steal some critical knowledge from inside a man’s mind. In a deftly paced and mechanically efficient (though it doesn’t show it) opening half hour, Nolan establishes the rules and groundwork of his world, and from there the film is its own beast.
The final hour of this film is frankly a miracle of editing (not to mention screenwriting); an absolute stand out sequence that is almost impossibly audacious in its complexity. This breathless conclusion is the grand scale payoff the film has been gradually working towards, weaving the threads together as more cast members are added and more secrets are revealed. The pacing is almost perfect. At two and a half hours, this film felt too short. That is one of the highest compliments I can give it.
Nolan’s on screen ensemble are so well cast it’s hard to believe this is the first time we’re seeing them all together. Everything is anchored by DiCaprio’s nuanced, entirely convincing central role, but the cast around him shine just as bright. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) is effortlessly likable as Arthur, the team’s researcher, as is Tom Hardy as ‘Forger’ Eames. Ellen Page as Ariadne (her name being perhaps the film’s only unsubtle, though undoubtedly intended, element) is also charming, but it seems almost harsh to single out single actors, so convincing is the entire cast. And not only is the team in front of the camera impressive, but those behind it stand out as well. Nolan’s regular collaborators Wally Pfister and Hans Zimmer (cinematography and music respectively) are both once again on top form. The film is gorgeous, sweeping effortlessly (and with a level of almost arrogant audacity) between myriad locations to the rousing booms and choruses of Zimmer’s excellent score.
But there is a beating heart beneath this film that anchors the action (and there is a fair amount) in reality (ironic, given the film’s concept). This comes across most strongly through DiCaprio, whose flaws come to represent more than simply the film’s emotional core, but it’s physical landscape as well. Similarly, the film is packed to the rafters with symbolism and poignant little asides that compliment the grandiose special effects and witty surrealism perfectly. You could spend hours discussing the different layers woven into this tapestry; as Ariadne says: “…it’s pure creation.”
This picture could easily have fallen apart. So complex is its narrative, so heavy are its themes, that it could have collapsed in on itself like the broken cities of its dream world. It is hugely impressive that, given what was at stake, Nolan has managed to not only pull this out of the bag (which would’ve been impressive enough), but to absolutely nail it. The film is as all-encompassing as the concept of its title: grand, epic, smart and unforgettable.