Friday, August 27, 2010

At the cinema

When I wasn't writing or cooking over the past few weeks, I took a couple of trips to the cinema.  Over the latest Twilight film we will draw a veil of discretion, pausing only to observe that it almost certainly delivered what its target audience wanted; Inception, however, was rather more interesting.

Christopher Nolan has the happy knack of being able to make intelligent pictures which unite critical and commercial success.  His two Batman films are both superior examples of their type, and The Prestige is an undervalued gem.  The first two hours of Inception, meanwhile, are so compelling that they mitigate the flabbiness of the final half-hour.  Nolan also gives us a nicely ambiguous final scene; in a film about the interface between dreams and reality, anything else would have been crass.

The plot is not meant to be summarised in a sentence.  Leonardo di Caprio leads an assorted team who can enter their target's mind to extract information--or, in the case of the "one last job" of the film--implant an idea.  Most of the film, therefore, takes place with the cast running around inside another character's head.  If, like my film companion, you can't buy that idea, you won't like the film, but if you go with the flow, it'll carry you along.  And for all its intellectual trickery, Inception  is at heart a very old-fashioned kind of film--a heist movie: the ill-assorted comrades, the meticulous planning, the botched execution.  The heist struture is what orders the narrative and makes the film, for all its hi-tech gizmo chic, surprisingly easy to follow.  (The deft skill of Nolan's infodumps also has plenty to do with it).

Once we see Inception as a heist movie rather than a Borgesian deconstruction of reality, it all makes rather more sense.  Its closest cousins are not The Matrix or Avatar, but Reservoir Dogs, The Italian Job and The Sting.  As with The Dark Knight, Nolan has made a first-rate genre picture, and none the worse for that.  See it if you get the chance.

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