Archive for Tom Hardy

The Revenant: Proof That It Really Could Always Be Worse

Posted in 7, Action, Drama, Horror, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , on February 10, 2016 by mducoing

Revenant - IMDBThere is beauty in misery. For the most part, this sums of Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s latest film, The Revenant, which basically follows a colonial version of Job through every horror one can imagine. Beautiful, engaging but also exhausting and ultimately over-the-top.

Premise: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival in pursuit of revenge. Result: A dark, emotional draining crucible of horror and madness that is both beautiful and traumatic.

Iñárritu‘s newest film forgoes much of the brilliant, often esoteric meta-tale of one man’s personal woes in favor of a far more direct route. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his “half-breed” Native American son are trackers who appear to be the only hope of a band of American fur traders out in the Northern Wilderness who have just been trounced in one of the most jarring camp raids to hit audiences in recent memory. Observers will be shaken by the powerful and painful direction and will welcome the subsequent low-burn tension that pits Glass against John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who has declared his opposition to Glass’s recommended plan in spite of Captain Andrew Henry’s (Domhnall Gleeson) decision to side with Glass.

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Mad Max – Fury Road: Stunning Thrill Ride

Posted in 9, Action, Horror, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2015 by mducoing

Mad Max - IMDBWhen news that writer/director George Miller was reimagining his storied Mad Max franchise via a series of storyboards rather than a full length script, there was much to fear in the fanboy universe. But with stunning visuals, visceral exhilaration and brilliantly painted canvas of colorful characters, Fury Road may be one of the most intriguing, thrilling events of the year.

Premise: After the end of civilization, two rebels haplessly bound together to restore order: Result: What it may lack in plot or dramatic dialogue it more than makes up for in intensity of experience.

The first few minutes of this film -a terrifying, utterly confusing capture and escape sequence by the wayward Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy)- immediately set the tone for a film that will do more than shock the system. By the time the opening credits explode onto the screen, audiences will already be experiencing a sense of euphoric exhaustion.

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Lawless: While There May Be No Heroes, Still a Strong, Thrilling Film

Posted in 8, Action, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by mducoing

Director John Hillcoat was given a strong script and an all-star cast and doesn’t squander either.  Unlike his 2009 snooze-fest The Road, Lawless – based on the novel by Matt Bondurant (The Wettest County in the World) – is interesting, often riveting, and full of color; and the fact that it is based on a true story only helps get audiences through some of the more incredible moments.  While it is unlikely to make too much splash in the awards season, it will likely win audience favor.

Premise: A bootlegging clan in Franklin County, Virginia is threatened by corrupt authorities who want a cut of their profits. Result: A strong drama that manages to hold the suspense and interest throughout.

 

The story is based on Bondurant family, or better said, the three Bondurant boys, who manage a Prohibition-era booze smuggling business in Franklin County, VA.  Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy) appears to be the leader, an unshakeable, often terrifying bull of a man who is both wise and unstoppable.  Then there is Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke) who is the unreliable #2, basically drinking himself to death slowly, but surely.

And then there is the “runt of the litter”, Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf), who has none of the rugged, backwoods nature of his two brothers.  Instead, Jack is a pretty boy and entrepreneur and avoids violence at all costs (it should be noted that LaBeouf comes off as almost too clean – honestly, he lives in the middle of the woods with several men who look like they came out of the mud – and this detracts from the character).

Nevertheless, there the three are, happily sipping and selling their wares, until darkness comes to Fairfax in the form of Chicago Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce), who is a damaged dandy that simply sweats evil through his finely kept skin.  The man is instantly dislikeable, arrogant, disruptive, and worse still terrifying since his manner seems to hide a malevolence rarely seen outside the possessed.

And trouble he brings, although not in the way one might expect.  Rather than try to shut them down initially, Rakes and the State’s Attorney are collaborating to extort the smugglers, by collecting kickbacks.  Forrest wants none of this and so incurs the wrath of Rakes and his forces, ultimately setting up countless battles that are as elegant as they are exciting, managing the right mix of action and drama.

It should be noted that the film seems to try to set these men up as heroes, but unlike modern romanticized versions of reality, a hero is not someone less bad that the other side – after all, they are bootleggers, not nuns. Nevertheless, throw in Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), the quintessential gangster, and the war just oozes with thrills.

Of course, apart from the highly intriguing central plot that follows the Bondurant resistance, there are also the surprisingly interesting romances. First, there is Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain), the buxom beauty from Chicago (for some unexplained reason everyone seems to come from Chicago) that has exchanged her city life as a “feather girl” for the quiet “downhome cookin’” of Blackwater Station. She is instantly locked in one of the most uncomfortable courtships ever, as Forrest, already a reserved, terse monolith, is reduced to confused stares and awkward grunts,  But as this relationship blossoms, audiences will become more invested than expected.

On the other end, is the Jack courtship of Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska), daughter of a preacher with a rebellious streak.  Jack courts her full steam ahead, stumbling at every turn and serving as the comic relief for both Bertha and audiences.  But as Jack becomes more successful teaming with friend Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan), his confidence and success turns Bertha around.

With these two premises in mind, the film builds and builds tension around the bootlegging and the romances, intertwiningly them brilliantly, until it fully devolves into a crucible of death, torture, and disaster.  Hillcoat does an admirable job with pacing and also allowing enough to take place on screen to deliver the message with intended impact without plunging into a sort of backwoods disaster porn.

To support this on-screen exhilaration is the tremendous acting in the film.  LaBeouf is quite the surprise, breaking free from his past performances as hapless, unintended hero meets D-class comedian with a hint of erratic-rapper line delivery.  Instead, he displays an astonishing range of emotion and acting ability, becoming the character ad navigating its nuances adroitly.

Hardy, for his part, is again fantastic, having fallen into a career routine of powerful, imposing creatures that exude damage as well as determination. He is able to deliver resounding messages through stunningly few words and instead relies on non-verbal and sometimes quasi-verbal cues (his grunt is almost an uncredited character).

Clarke, taking role as the third brother, is given little wiggle room since his role is somehow less relevant than the others, yet despite the weak hand dealt, he manages to give the character more depth than what the script might otherwise have afforded; overall he delivers a strong, well-rounded, and likely underrated performance.  And DeHaan, as sidekick extraordinaire, is again fantastic, delivering a humble, brilliant, memorable character that impacts the plot and audience emotion more than anyone could have foreseen.

The clear villain in this film, Pearce’s Rakes, is both perfect and over-the-top.  He is clearly evil, and Pearce manages this with aplomb, producing subtle gestures, flashes of emotion, and a creepy cackle that make observers wrench.  But there is some backstory missing here, something, somewhere that needs to be explained more than sheer arrogance. While it is obvious that he is vile and that he is severely damaged, his response to being called a dandy – despite clearly looking like a dandy –  suggests that some reference to past events, even in small doses, might have made him more digestible.

The women are relatively perfect.  Chastain manages to be radiant, seductive and vulnerable but also mixing this with a subtlety that deepens the character.  And her expert handling of some very emotional scenes in the latter half of the film demonstrated an unquestionable talent. Wasikowska, in a much more subdued role, still manages to deliver a strong performance making a fairly invisible role, visible and relevant.

In the end, while the resolution is almost textbook anticlimactic, the film as a whole does a consistent job of keeping the thrills and drama throughout.  And supported by some stellar stars and some expert direction, it is the overall sense of intrigue and excitement that wins out.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

 

The Dark Knight Rises: Take Your Bow Mr. Nolan. Take Your Bow.

Posted in 9, Action, Ratings, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2012 by mducoing

The Dark Knight Rises marks not only the end of a brilliant trilogy, but serves as a notable milestone in a stunning legacy: born from a comic, grown by brilliant minds (Burton) and squandered by others (Schumacher), now under director Christopher Nolan, the legend lives and breathes and has indeed “risen” to unimagined heights.  Not only does this installment live up to the hype, but ages perfectly, becoming better upon multiple viewings, through a power of brilliant direction, stunning visuals, and a nuanced attention to detail that comes from creators that care as much for the story and its impact as the fans do.

Premise: Eight years later in Gotham, the terrorist mercenary Bane, overwhelms the city, forcing the Dark Knight to resurface to protect a city that had branded him an enemy. Result: A stunning, satisfying film that will live long in fan and non-fan memories alike.

The film begins in a time of peace, many years after the defeat of Gotham’s greatest nemesis The Joker; the city is now lulled into placated submission, dormant with crime at an all-time low.  This result stems mainly from the swift justice brought about by The Dent Act, a somewhat tyrannical law that rises from the legacy of the lionized White Knight Harvey Dent, whose atrocities were kept secret to protect the city, as the Dark Knight took the blame and fled into darkness.

Now, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) languishes in shadow, with a broken body and broken spirit, the true legacy of past events.  Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) also has hit his nadir, agonizing over his decision, wondering if the ends did in fact justify the means.

But both need wait no longer, as a devilishly clever and complex plan is being hatched by the greatest threat to Gotham yet, brought by the terrifying masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) and his accomplices.  Complete with chilling visage and eerie voice that resembles the output of Voldemort and Darth Vadar dropped in a blender, his plans as head of League of Shadows rest on carrying out what Ra’s Al Ghul began in Batman Begins some many years ago.

Scene after scene brings with it deeper intrigue and astounding visuals, building excitement with new, interesting characters like Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), all who demand the audience’s complete attention.  Of course, old friends are still around like Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Caine) as well as more minor, sometimes rightly forgettable characters like Foley (Matthew Modine) and Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), who serve to advance the plot but little else. But in the end, this is necessary, as there is so much to keep audiences occupied that anything else added to the mix might be cruel and unusual.

The ultimate plot of the film stems from The Dark Knight coming out of certain retirement to defeat Bane and his army.  But Bane is much too clever, and anticipates every move eventually luring Batman and the city into trap after trap.  It is little help that Selina Kyle, the stealth and uber-intriguing “cat” burglar, keeps everyone’s attention long enough for the insidious play to take effect.

The film itself is beautiful with notable cinematography that casts a dark and almost melancholy tone while being strangely alluring. It is also fast paced, moving from scene to scene dexterously, always keeping audiences on their toes, ever-engaged and thrilled.  The battle sequences are also quite impressive: the use of the Bat is enthralling as well as the other “Bat Toys” and most importantly, clashes with Bane are exciting and hypnotic, in particular, an initial clash between the two that will leave audiences terrified.

Kyle, herself, demands as much attention, working as a powerful, resourceful and cunning quasi-villain who ebbs and flows from temptress to foil with remarkable skill; playing with audience emotions, she acts as a lightning rod for treachery and sympathy, both coexisting perfectly in a mortal enigma.

The remainder of the film rests on several essential events: the possible destruction of Batman, the capture of Gotham, and the testing of Wayne, Kyle and all key characters in their resolve.  And with each scene, the plot thickens and as the true mystery reveals itself, layer after layer peeled away by an anxious audience, the resolution offers a sweet reward buffered by constant, non-stop excitement and smart filmmaking.

Gordon-Levitt, Hardy and Cotillard prove once again why Nolan continues to cast them in his films, if for different reasons.  Gordon-Levitt is wonderful as up-and-coming detective that helps reinvigorate the police, and demonstrating the broad range of emotions required to keep his character relevant and growing.

Cotillard is also fantastic, proving that female characters do not need to be explosive like Hathaway’s Kyle to control the on-screen events; like she does time and time again since La Vie En Rose, Cotillard glows on screen, delivers line after line as if only she were made to deliver them, and with an elegance few possess.  She keeps audiences watching intently enough to make eventual developments plausible and realistic.

And Hardy is absolutely terrifying as Bane: his strange accent -once audiences acclimate to his intense, bizarre cadence- is perfectly chilling and his management of nuance through his voice and eyes -considering much of his face is hidden for the entirety of the film- is a marvel.

Of course, not all goes perfectly in the Nolan Universe.  His seemingly eternal Achilles Heel is comparably poor sound mixing, where background music or explosions obliterate dialogue; this becomes increasingly problematic with Bane, who is difficult to understand in the best of conditions (note: this is somewhat remedied by avoiding IMAX in favor of regular viewing).  Additionally, his bizarre affection for character mumbling is at some moments both irritating and distracting; with a film this action-packed, moments of diversion are luxurious that are ill-afforded.

There are also some bizarre continuity issues: for example, the Wall Street scene, considering the NYSE closes at 430p -and it certainly did not appear that this was even the case- why the subsequent chase scene occurs at night is an utter mystery. Additionally, a few lines border on hokey or ignore how actual people speak, but largely this can be overlooked by a broader understanding of the script, where issues were minimal.

Nevertheless, the ultimate resolution of the film and then of the series are both respectively fantastic.  The film winds down as the city, having been purposefully tormented for months, is now meeting its final moments as a catastrophic event looms.  It is during this crucible that truths and twists are heaped onto viewers as they sit transfixed by the sheer intensity of events.  And the final moments in the film not only serve to close the series in a satisfying manner, but also manage to provide hope, however bleak, a central theme in the film and the trilogy.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises is an extremely strong, exhilarating and enjoyable film.  Considering the intense pressure of expectation that followed the previous film, Rises required a brilliant cast, a nuanced, detailed script, stunning visuals, exciting events and a holistic control that made the overall feel of the film a triumph.  Despite a few errors, Nolan delivered on this expectation a film that is fantastic on first viewing, and even better with time.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Who Knew That Great Movies Could Also Be Sooooo Boring

Posted in 5, Drama, Independent, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2011 by mducoing

Enigmatic director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) continues his obsession with the bizarre with his latest film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy based on the International Bestseller by John le Carré. While there is no question that skill and precision went into the development of this film, there is a point where intrigue becomes confusion, subtlety becomes invisibility, and entertainment becomes non-existent.  All these lines were crossed in this film.

Premise: In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6’s echelons. Result: A strange mixture of strong content a good acting suffocated in the crib by ponderous pacing and an ultimately dull construction.

The premise of this film is fairly straight forward even if its execution is not: during the Cold War, British Intelligence MI6 is made aware of a Russian spy in the upper echelons.  George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is covertly brought out of retirement (after he and the then head Control (John Hurt) were forced out in disgrace) to investigate the matter.  His targets are several key agents, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), and Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) whose codenames are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, and Spy.  It appears that agent Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) uncovered this bit of intelligence after falling for a Russian wife whose husband was under his surveillance.  The ensuing mystery is Smiley’s attempt to determine which of the four men is in fact the spy, if any at all.

The premise is quite interesting and the performances in the film overall are generally worthy of the men who deliver them.  It is very detailed and the complexity of the fim should absolutely be noted in favor of its creators.

The issue, however, is much more in the delivery of the film.  Naturally, Alfredson has a certain style and this style differs greatly in the execution of spy films audiences have come to know well: The recent Bond film, The Bourne Chronicles, and any other such films of intrigue are filled with action, thrilling speed, and untold violence.  This formula is by no means necessary to deliver a spy film and the nature of this story might even have been cheapened by the attempt.

However, what hurts Tinker overall, is the delivery of a film that not only exhibits none of these qualities, but none of their charms either.  To be clear where this film may not: it is very, very boring.  Tinker is not a good movie in the same way an abandoned 1978 Mustang is not a good car: sure, at one point it was likely dependable, beautiful and purred like a lion; but now, abandoned, left to rust, its tired empty, the once proud marvel of technology is likely to leave anyone stranded and wating.  In this way Tinker uses old methods and a painfully tired strategy and will leave audiences stranded in a state of complete confusion and boredom. Here, Alfredson has constructed an ode to another time, when people thought the mail was a highlight of their day.

Tinker is a slow moving spy drama that constructs deep and intricate labyrinths and each scene seems longer and less interesting than the last.  It ultimately has two flaws: first, that much of the film is confusing to the point of inexplicability; and second, when it is clear what the film is doing, audiences likely won’t care.  Delivered like a hefty beast crossing a vast desert, Tinker uses long silences and brooding faces to communicate countless details which make this film agonizingly sluggish. 

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is more an exercise in saintly patience than an attempt at entertainment, something akin to an elderly instructor teaching Latin my rote memorization and each line soon becomes indistinguishable from the last underneath a haze of monotony. Even the important twists fall with a dull, silent thud underneath the frustrated, distracted breathing/snoring of the audience. 

Ultimately, Tinker is the sado-masochist of bewildering films, deeply taking pleasure in the angst and incomprehensibility of it all.  This couched with an agonizing snail’s pace and utterly impactless finale, make Tinker a must miss for anyone not looking for alternatives to general anesthesia.

Rating: 5 – A luke-warm Pinot Grigio

Warrior: An Unstoppable Action Masterpiece

Posted in 9, Action, Drama, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2011 by mducoing

It is more than a rare treat when a film comes along that completely exceeds expectations in every possible way.  It should be noted, than in this case, not only did Warrior exceed my expectations, but these expectations were high to begin with.  With a strong director Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory), talented cast (Edgerton, Hardy, Nolte) and a great script (O’Connor and Anthony Tambakis), there was already s sense that something great was being made.  I simply had no idea how great.

Premise: When the youngest son of an alcoholic former boxer returns home to train for  a mixed martial arts tournament, the lives of the entire estranged family, including his brother, intersect. Result: A brilliant action film that manages to rise above the thrill to deliver an astounding emotional journey amidst the action pact visuals.

Warrior, like any great, memorable film, plays its hand close to the vest.  The opening sequence provides no real clue as to what will come other than an ominous, haunting sensation brought about by the discomforting, if reserved, clash between Tommy (Tom Hardy) and his estranged father Paddy (Nick Nolte).  It is a war of words that will infect the audience with a sinister mood that will not relent throughout the film. It is the veil of bitter, putrid sadness of wrongs that cannot be undone.

At the same time we are met with the rival storyline: that of Tommy’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), also estranged from his father, albeit for different reasons, and his desperate attempts to keep his family afloat financially.  His life as a High School Physics teacher, along with his wife’s (Jennifer Morrison) contributions, however, cannot make ends meet.  And so, he turns to his past as a mediocre UFC Fighter, pummeling his way through loosely organized fights in stripper club parking lots. 

Then, in a twist of fate, a family that had been torn apart long ago is placed on a collision course.  Tommy, realizing his power almost accidentally by pummeling a top MMA contender, decides to take his father on as a trainer – and that is where the relationship stops, despite Paddy’s best efforts.  Simultaneously, Brendan finds himself suspended after news gets out to his school about his back-lot brawls.  With this downturn, and his house on the line, he decides to begin training again to become more successful on the has-been and never- been circuit in an effort to make ends meet with the help of his friend and world-class trainer, Frank (Frank Grillo).

The journey these two face is both remarkable and exciting; both grow physically as fighters, but so do their characters.  Each scene communicates another aspect of who these men are, of how they came to be, complete with pain and recovery.  We also better understand their relationships.  It is clear that there is ample disloyalty but each feels betrayed for different reasons, and the concept of forgiveness to each seems both foreign and grotesque; yet in subtle ways, there is hope that this will not always be the case.

Miraculously, the two men, estranged and unconnected, somehow manage to rise through luck and effort, and descend upon Atlantic City for the much hailed Sparta tournament, a sudden death, single elimination death brawl, where the world’s best fighters compete for a $5 million purse.  This culmination enhances even the already staggering tone of the film; here, the specters of abandonment, betrayal, alcoholism, and regret swirl invisibly yet palpably on screen, almost as solid as the figures we can see.

The tournament is a crucible of stimulation and excitement. Bryan Callen and Sam Sheridan play themselves as the commentators and lift the action from exciting to completely over the top.  The fights are amazing and there is an energy that elevates the movie from amazing to astonishingly unforgettable. In every sequence we both cringe and cackle with delight as Warrior is Rocky, Karate Kid, Cinderella Man and every bar room brawl ever, all rolled into one modern-day clash.  Audiences will likely be glued to their seats throughout, mesmerized.

Of course, the acting in this film is perhaps the greatest of all this film’s prizes. The three stars (Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte) are each stellar exemplifying the diversity of this film through the diversity of the characters they portray.

Nolte delivers a performance that is simply breath-taking.  As a “recovered” alcoholic who attempts to mend his relationship with his two sons, he is able to provide audiences with a rare mixture of strength, patience, sadness, and regret that all manage to permeate his rough, worn exterior.  His silences are calculated, powerful and often speak more loudly than his meager words; his final collapse, as he obsesses over the physical and metaphorical Moby Dick, is one of the most powerfully emotional scenes in any film for years, managing to capture countless emotions from him and Hardy that lift this film to even greater heights without ever approaching the melodrama we have come to expect from weaker films.

Tom Hardy, in his role as Tommy, the devastated son who has risen from the ashes of perceived abandonment by both his brother and father, exudes a damaged anger that will grip audiences. There is a darkness by which he rules his scenes, a terror he inflicts in other characters just by his brooding presence; and yet we know him, we know the pain, we know the boy who has become a man underneath, and somehow, despite this exterior, we long to know this man.  Hardy makes observers obsess over his story, making his character as complex a person, as he is unstoppable and dangerous a fighter. 

Edgerton portrays Brendan, Tommy’s brother, and exhibits the lighter side of Hardy.  Where Tommy is largely insular and determined through a shame and rage, Edgerton portrays Brendan as damaged in his own manner, of course, but still capable of function in today’s world.  He is fragile and yet strong, confident, yet confused.  Like Hardy, but for different reasons, audiences cannot help but hope for him, and hope that he and his family can finally come together.

O’Connor’s tale is incredible in so many ways, making not only the stories but the characters completely complex.  At no point in time do we know what will happen next with slight twists and turns rising from unseen shadows, and further, at no point do we know what we would like to happen.  Observers will likely be pleasantly confounded by the rich plot and satisfied by its intricate emotion, which in turn will support a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  The resolution of the film is perfect; it manages to tie in all the emotions audiences will be feeling, all their hopes for these characters, and provide a realism that is thoroughly satisfying.

There is no doubt that there are many cinematic triumphs to choose from in film history.  In recent years, however, a case must be made for this film to be among them. For if nothing else can be agreed upon, this is one masterpiece worth fighting for.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

Inception: Wonderful, But Almost Too Smart For Its Own Good!

Posted in 8, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2011 by mducoing

Following The Dark Knight and the incessant fan-love adoration and critical acclaim it brought, Christopher Nolan couldn’t wait to set his attention to his next film, Inception.  The film continues his trend of creating riveting cinema with a unique perspective.

Premise: Thieves capable of entering the human mind through dream invasion are confronted with their most difficult challenge yet: Inception.  Result: Donnie Darko on steroids, this film rivets and intrigues while also requiring not only a second and third viewing, but also a steno-pad, a text book, a study group, and a three-credit college class to fundamentally understand its premise.

This is a strong film with an absorbing, unique argument.  Nolan writes and directs Inception and is supremely guilty of taking monumental risks…however, it appears in today’s world of directing, no one has greater pay-offs.  Every scene is thrilling, either for its superb action sequences that push us to the edges of our seats or for the poignant emotionally charged or intellectually gripping scenes that moved a clever and powerful plot.

Nolan uses confusion as a weapon in this film, but as any master will, he uses it largely without the audience’s awareness.  The film begins with scenes that are not meant to make any sense: the audience is a passive observer with little beyond slack-jawed curiosity, like a hillbilly at an art gallery or anyone at anything starring Tom Green.  But we are deeply intrigued, knowing that a director as good as Nolan will not dangle scenes in front of us without their inevitable reappearance later, suddenly transformed into thought-provoking outcomes.  The film continues this rapid sequence of bewildering rivets where the audience realizes they have been tricked, but this knowledge lends itself to more confusion, all the while drawing us in closer as we realize Nolan has put together an idea so unique and well orchestrated that we can’t help but watch.

This “premise” is dream manipulation: a world where the military has developed a technology capable of allowing others to enter and influence the dream sequences of targets and “extract” information from the inner-most recesses of their minds.  Of course, the film is called Inception, not Extraction, and thus Inception is introduced to Cobb (the ever-fabulous Leonardo DiCaprio) as a means to return to his family.  Cobb is the self-proclaimed best extractor, and is keenly aware that Inception is possible.  So he puts together a team of Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy), and Yusuf (Delep Rao) along with neophyte turned dream architecture diva Ariadne (Ellen Page.)  We heart this team not only for their collectively well-written lines or fantastic cast chemistry or just overall sophisticated sexiness…well, really mostly for those things. Hardy is a master at the subtle dry jab; Gordon-Levitt (who, in all honesty, is typically better than this script allows) has at least one great fight scene, and Page is able to demonstrate her lack of Juno-esque singular dimension, owning this character with all the nuance it will allow.

There are ostensibly two competing plot-lines in the film: the supposed caper, as described above, and the ever-evolving baggage Cobb harbors for his deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard).  As the film evolves, the plot-lines dance in spirals, intermingling, casting shadows here and there to perplex the audience, and in doing so largely thrill.  Fascinating and fecund concepts are introduced such as dreams within dreams within dreams, and time across these dream worlds, and the concept of ideas and the human mind’s ability to recognize their origins. 

Nolan crafts a brilliant storyline but in some ways, too brilliant for the medium.  The premise he develops – the twists within twists within twists – are probably too much for audiences with such limited exposure to the story.  A book, for instance, would allow the reader to re-read, review, re-think; in the film, we watch and if any point is missed, Nolan’s point is lost.  Additionally, the film, at times, appears as if it is being shown incorrectly to general audiences, where instead, it should have been shown to “sleep” professors or super geeks who are experts in the ideas presented and thus capable of fully following the film to its logical terminus. 

It all becomes harrowing, much like sitting down to a table of experienced gamers as they play out a game of Dungeons and Dragons and trying to understand anything at all; to them, the rules are simple due to experience and so bending them or finding loopholes is now not only allowable but required to keep it interesting – to them.  There is almost an inside knowledge required that most people wouldn’t ever have access to.  Nolan attempts to handle this with long, dry scenes where characters attempt explanations that both hinder the pace of the film and flirt with being “a little too late.” In this case, having the audience not know what is coming isn’t necessarily good if they don’t even know what is happening now; ultimately, the mystification takes an edge off the curve balls.

Overall, this film is fantastic and lives up to the hype.  It is intelligent, interesting and riveting – qualities that few directors can manage effectively.  But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  Even in our dreams.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

 

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