Coming out this week on Blu-ray and DVD: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending action-thriller Inception; and a look at Shrek’s final chapter, Shrek Forever After.
There are very few people working in the film industry today capable of creating a movie like writer and director Christopher Nolan’s Inception. This is daring cinema at its best, and much like Nolan’s previous works, including Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight, it leaves you wanting more.
It’s also easily 2010’s best thriller.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the wanted criminal, Cobb, a man who has mastered stolen government technology that allows him to enter other people’s dreams, which he uses for corporate espionage. Set in the very near future, where everything else looks the same but certain people around the world have access to this strange technology, the film could almost be a heist movie, but it’s so much more than that.
After a trip in to the mind of a corporate giant fails, Cobb and his team of dream experts are given the task of doing something most people consider impossible: inception. Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, wants Cobb to break into the mind of Robert Fischer, Jr., played by Cillian Murphy, the man who runs his company’s rival corporation, and give him the idea of dissolving the massive conglomerate.
Cobb’s right hand man, Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, insists the job can’t be done because it’s impossible to create an idea inside other people’s minds, but Cobb will do whatever it takes to complete the job. Cobb’s motivation is simple, if he can pull it all off, Saito will make a call that will clear Cobb’s name, allowing him to return to his family back home in America.
All that’s missing is one person: a genius who can build the dreamscape that the team will perform within, and when they find psychology student Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, they start scheming the biggest job they have ever attempted.
Featuring powerful performances by the entire cast — an all-star team of some of Nolan’s favorite actors from previous films — Inception is a nearly perfect action thriller.
Thanks to Nolan’s deft, daring, and driven tale, the film is far beyond the average thriller. I’m convinced that lesser writers and directors would have had a hard time making this story work because the concepts are well above the normal Hollywood threshold. Nolan makes this big concept work because he breaks it down to the essentials; he gives the dreamscape a set of basic rules, and builds his story, and that dream world, with the stories of the vivid characters.
While there are a few stories to tell, including how this heist can be pulled off, the major story arc revolves around Cobb’s issues with his dead wife, Mal, played by Marion Cotillard. Ariadne dives into Cobb’s story and quickly unravels him, but he won’t let her understand everything, like why he’s a wanted man in America, and why Mal lurks around every corner of his mind.
It’s Nolan’s attention to the story of Mal and Cobb that makes Inception truly a masterful work of filmmaking. As the story unfolds, the action intensifies, and everything builds to a huge peak that culminates with a truly satisfying ending for the story, and Nolan’s dream. The miracle of all this is that Nolan found a way to drive the thriller aspect of this story without losing the thread of Cobb’s underlying sadness, angst, and motivation.
After watching this two-and-a-half-hour thriller unfold I’m also amazed at how the story flies, despite its length. It clipped along at the perfect pace, aided in part by Hans Zimmer’s breathtaking score, cinematographer Wally Pfister’s camera work, and editor Lee Smith ability to bring very complicated scenes together effortlessly.
Inception is a near-perfect thriller and I can’t recommend it enough as either something to watch over the winter break, or as a gift over the holidays. Nolan is in his top form with this rich story, maybe not to the peak we witnessed in The Dark Knight, but this is still a stunningly complex film that is no less brainy than it is action-packed.
Also opening this weekend is the final sequel in the Shrek franchise, Shrek Forever After.
Once again starring Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy, the last Shrek film has the big green guy signing a deal so he can become the mean ogre he used to be. The only problem is that Shrek’s dream has come true in an alternate world where Fiona is still cursed, an evil dictator controls the land, and Puss In Boots is gigantically obese.
While the first two films were excellent, and made for great viewing whether you were a kid or an adult, Shrek The Third was a mediocre follow-up at best. That made me a bit hesitant about this new sequel, and most critics are echoing those sentiments in their reviews.
Ernest Hardy of the Village Voice wrote, “It takes the film a deadly long time to kick in, and when it does, it largely retreads formula: ironic use of pop standards, musical numbers with contemporary choreography played for maximum laughs, risque one-liners.”
While Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly commented, “Everyone involved fulfills his or her job requirements adequately. But the magic is gone, and Shrek Forever After is no longer an ogre phenomenon to reckon with. Instead, it’s a Hot Swamp Time Machine.”