Inception: A Flickcharter’s Movie Review
Your mind is the scene of the crime.
So reads the tagline for Inception, the new film from writer/director Christopher Nolan that just dares you to try and summarize it in a few sentences. I'm not sure it's possible. Here's a shot at something that barely scratches the surface: Star Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a man who specializes in entering people's dreams and stealing their ideas. When he is hired to do the opposite--place a new idea in a man's mind--he and his team get far more than they bargained for.
Such a simplistic description of such a complex movie. I am in awe of Nolan's film, and it's going to rank extremely high on my Flickchart; so high, that I'm almost shocked.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed; Titanic), Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins; Letters from Iwo Jima), Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer; G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose; Public Enemies), Ellen Page (Juno; X-Men: The Last Stand), Tom Hardy (Layer Cake; Star Trek: Nemesis), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins; Sunshine), Tom Berenger (Platoon; Training Day) and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight; Children of Men)
Inception vs. a Similar Movie
Let me be clear: There is no movie like Inception. While one will certainly recognize elements from many movie genres--sci-fi, caper/heist, action--it is a brand-new, wholly original vision. Having said that, inevitably 99% of movie goers are going to compare it to the ground-breaking 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix, written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers.
There are certain similarities. Both films deal with reality vs. artificial reality (dreams in Inception, and the titular Matrix). But that's about where it ends. The Matrix was about man vs. machine, an adrenaline-pumping action film that revolutionized visual effects and is endlessly ripped off and parodied to this day. Inception, while still full of action, is a little more cerebral (which is not to say that The Matrix isn't a smart film), and, while still full of thoroughly convincing CGI, many more of its set pieces are done practically. While most of the action in The Matrix is indeed better than most of the action in Inception (though Joseph Gordon-Levitt has an impressive, trailer-made scene in a topsy-turvy, gravity-defying hallway), I prefer the whole package of the latter. But only just.
When Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) discovers the truth about the Matrix, there's not a lot of ambiguity: He goes in to kick some computer-programmed butt. Inception, meanwhile, is much more layered and mind-bending: As Cobb navigates layers of dreams within dreams, we begin to question the nature of his reality. Yet, through all the film's complexity, I never got lost, so long as I paid attention, and that made for one heckuva ride that I thoroughly enjoyed. Both of these films gave me such a rush after the first viewing, but, if only because the rush is fresher, I have to give this battle to Inception.
Inception vs. another movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio
I have become convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio is the finest actor of my generation. The year he convinced me was 2006, when he came out with the fantastic one-two punch of Best Picture Oscar-winner The Departed, directed by Martin Scorsese, and his own Best Actor Oscar nomination for Blood Diamond, directed by Edward Zwick (a performance I actually prefer to The Departed, though many people cry foul that he wasn't nominated for that one). How does Inception match up against this high point in his career?
It's not a career-best performance from DiCaprio, but he is absolutely the glue that holds the film together. In the midst of all the craziness and high-concept dream-hopping, it's DiCaprio's relationships with the rest of the cast--particularly Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe--that totally ground the film. Without their performances, Inception would be all spectacle and no substance. Fortunately, it has both. DiCaprio is better in The Departed, but only just, and he has more to work with, in terms of really sinking his teeth into a character. I vastly prefer sci-fi action to gangster films, so while The Departed is probably my personal favorite gangster flick, this is an easy win for Inception.
Inception vs. another movie by Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan was practicing for Inception when he made Memento. Memento was a film that completely snuck up on me. Though it had much less spectacle, it blew me away just as much as The Matrix. I saw both of those films in the days when I didn't really have an Internet connection, and all I really knew about them was what I read on the backs of the VHS cases in the movie rental store. Memento was a wonderful surprise, with its non-linear storytelling, and fantastic lead character played by Guy Pearce. I loved every inch of that movie.
So, in this day and age where I am constantly reading about movies online, for Inception to come along, defy any spoilers and blow me away just as much as Memento...it has left me in awe. It's almost like Memento and the Matrix combined: all the action spectacle combined with the twists and turns of story that force you to pay attention. In this era of remakes and sequels and adaptations, Inception is a wholly original breath of fresh air, a summer blockbuster with brains. As with The Departed, my fondness for science fiction is leading me to choose Inception over Memento, but this time it hurts; Memento is a movie in my personal Top 10.
Where is Inception on My Flickchart?
Christopher Nolan has done what I thought was not possible. Since I started Flickcharting over a year ago, I have not let any new movie that I've seen for the first time enter my Top 20. That streak has ended, confirming what I already knew: Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.
Which leads me to the #1 ranked movie on Flickchart, and my personal #2: The Dark Knight. And if 99% of movie goers are going to compare Inception to The Matrix, then everyone and their dog is going to compare it to The Dark Knight.
Essentially, The Dark Knight and Inception are the two Christopher Nolan films that could probably not be more different from each other. While Inception is probably Nolan's most complex and convoluted narrative yet, The Dark Knight is actually his most straightforward and linear. Even TDK's predecessor, the excellent Batman Begins, which revived and reinvented a dead comic book franchise, featured many flashbacks. The Dark Knight plays it straight, and that narrative structure is in sharp contrast to Inception's twists, turns, and jumps between dreamscapes. Yet, for all its jumping around in time and between realities, I was never lost during the telling of Inception (if anything, I found it even easier to follow than Memento), and watching it for the first time was just as enjoyable as the first time I watched The Dark Knight.
In the end, my heart will just not allow me to vote for Inception over The Dark Knight, and here's my reasoning: It all comes down to the cast. Again, to be clear: Inception's cast is just as fantastic as that in The Dark Knight. Nobody has a role that is as over-the-top and flashy and history-making as Heath Ledger's Joker, but everyone does their job very, very well. But I thought the cast in The Dark Knight was almost pitch-perfect (not just Ledger), and they get more of a chance to flex their acting chops. There are plenty of great character moments in Inception that help to ground it, but the very nature of the spectacle limits them. There is more room in The Dark Knight for the actors to do what they do best, and as I love great acting even more than fantastic action and sci-fi spectacle, this is a win for The Dark Knight.
At least, for now. I could see myself revisiting this match-up in the future, after I watch both movies again.
Meanwhile, I've allowed myself to vote for Inception over my former #3 movie on Flickchart, Michael Mann's crime opus, Heat (1995). And for this, I feel like a traitor. In this instance, it's precisely because of the spectacle of Inception that I'm making this choice, because Heat is another fantastic actor's showcase, particularly for the legendary Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Another hard choice for me.
Future Movement on My Flickchart?
Well, when I'm allowing a movie to land this high on my chart, there's nowhere to go but down. Inception does not beat my #1 movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), which I pretty much allow to represent director Peter Jackson's entire trilogy at the top of my chart. And I've decided, for now, that Inception is better than every Christopher Nolan that isn't called The Dark Knight. As Nolan dominates my personal Top 10, this pretty much ensures that Inception will be a mainstay of my Top 20 for a long time.
Current Rank on My Flickchart: 3/1213
(A review like this is probably only useful if you have an idea of how the writer uses Flickchart. I am an acknowledged fanboy. My Top 20 is dominated by movie heroes like Indiana Jones, Ellen Ripley and Marty McFly, and Christopher Nolan now has four movies lodged in my Top 10. I always rank movies by one criteria: "Which would I rather watch right now?" This means that movies that I might consider to technically be very good will lose out to films that I enjoy watching more, and a desire for repeat viewings weighs heavily in my decisions.)
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Nigel as johnmason on Flickchart. If you're interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.