Talking Movies

September 26, 2018

From the Archives: Taken

Ten years ago today Taken was released in Ireland.

Liam Neeson admitted that he only took this part because at 56 he didn’t expect to be offered an action role again, from such inauspicious beginnings comes an unexpected joy as Neeson has the time of his life in Taken as effectively he gets to play Jack Bauer at age 56.

His operative secret agent (or “preventer” as he describes himself, think CTU…) has retired to spend more time with his estranged daughter. She is living with her aggravatingly wealthy stepfather Xander Berkeley (yes, that’s right Jack Bauer’s boss George Mason in 24) and Neeson’s bitter ex-wife Famke Janssen, a thankless role which is becoming so prevalent that someone really needs to have a character riposte “Well, if you’re ex is that much of a loser, it doesn’t say much about you that you married them, does it?” to get rid of it. LOST’s Maggie Grace plays Jack’s daughter Kim. Yes that’s right, French writer/producer Luc Besson has brilliantly pre-empted the planned 24 movie to the extent of having a permanently in peril daughter Kim. Kim travels to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) and, Kims being Kims, they get kidnapped by a gang trafficking in sex slaves. It’s worth sighing at this point that both actresses are far too old for their roles and ‘act young’ by jumping around a lot and screaming, which is not much of a stretch for Grace it must be admitted but is quite disappointing from Cassidy given her very cool role as a taciturn demon on Supernatural.

Neeson, as you might have seen from the absurd trailer, talks Kim through her kidnap and threatens the kidnappers before they hang up on him. He jets over, courtesy of the private plane belonging to Berkeley’s wealthy businessman, and gets medieval on the kidnappers. This isn’t “ooh look at our fancy fight choreography” fighting, this is down and dirty “how many punches, jabs and kicks do I really need to give in order to cripple this person?” fighting and bone-crunchingly realistic it looks too. This is the adrenaline rush that 24 provided before it got ridiculous. Neeson is superbly cast for this, his 6, 4” frame dominating any room he walks into, while his boxing past makes his fight scenes more plausible than is usual in a Besson produced action flick. Neeson finds the gang holding his daughter through a mix of dogged detective work, old contacts (including a mentor who features in a scene outrageously lifted directly by Besson from Day 5 of 24), old fashioned brutality and yes, you guessed it, one very nasty torture scene involving a lecture by Neeson on the joys of a constant supply of electricity when trying to beat confessions out of bad guys. Besson sure knows his 24… By the end of this film you feel sure that Neeson has killed or maimed half the Parisian underworld and, quelle surprise, the big bad turns out to be an evil Arab.

If one wanted to gripe about all this one could say that Pierre Morel’s film endorses the sort of pop-fascism espoused by 24 but analysing the politics of this nonsense would really be pushing it. This is not high art. What it is is gripping, plausible, brutal and ultimately awesome fun. Highly recommended.

4/5

April 8, 2017

Private Lives

The Gate celebrates its regime change by producing a Noel Coward play. Plus ca change, and all that drivel, darling.

Our man Elyot (Shane O’Reilly) arrives at a spiffy hotel in old Deauville for a second honeymoon, as it were, this being his second marriage. His present wife Sibyl (Lorna Quinn) tediously cannot stop talking about his previous wife Amanda (Rebecca O’Mara) and do you know the damndest thing happens; doesn’t she turn out to be staying in the very next room with her present husband, dear old Victor (Peter Gaynor). Whole thing is most extraordinary… Would you credit that their balconies even adjoin?! Sibyl and Victor make themselves so beastly when Elyot and Amanda both independently try to escape this positively sick-making set-up that it really serves them right when El and Am decide to simply decamp together to their old flat in Paris to avoid all the unpleasantness. But the course of true love never did run smooth…

Coward’s ‘intimate comedy’ is a sight too intimate for its own good here. One misses the variety afforded by recent hilarious outings by waspish ensembles for Hay Fever and The Vortex at the Gate. Instead we have a four-hander, and for the whole second act largely a two-hander, where you keep wondering if director Patrick Mason was foiled in casting his regular foil Marty Rea by the latter’s touring commitments. Mason and Rea have triumphed with Sheridan, Stoppard, Coward, Wilde, and you feel Rea urgently needs to play Elyot before he ages out. O’Mara and Quinn are patently too old for their parts, and it makes great bosh of Coward’s script if the naive 23 year old that Elyot flees to here is obviously thirtysomething, while instead of seeking the stolidity of an older man Amanda has married a contemporary.

O’Reilly is nicely abrupt as Elyot, but he and O’Mara never quite reach the heights for which these parts are constructed. But they deliver a wonderfully choreographed fight, chaos so exploding you feel it must topple offstage.  Tellingly the audience reacted with shock when he pushed her, but laughed when she broke an LP over his head… Francis O’Connor’s set design reuses familiar elements (The Father, Waiting for Godot) but its transformation from art deco hotel to primitive chic flat is a marvel and delight. There are also divine musical jokes as Coward’s ‘20th Century Blues’ plays between acts, and Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto (the soul of Coward’s Brief Encounter) mixes with Hitler on the wireless. And did anyone from the Gate see Gaynor in Hedda Gabler? He can do bombast well, but subtle even better; give him a chance!

This, then, is how the Gate Theatre as it was during the Age of Colgan ends, not with a bang but a whimper, and what rough beast slouches towards the Rotunda to be born?

3/5

Private Lives continues its run at the Gate for ever so long.

May 27, 2016

The Price of Desire

Mary McGuckian directs an impressionistic portrait of Irish designer Eileen Gray’s battles over authorship with egotistical French architect Le Corbusier.

Eileen Gray (Orla Brady) is an Irishwoman abroad, leading an emancipated life in post-WWI France as a designer, riding the wave of the same zeitgeist as the Bauhaus school in the Weimar Republic. A romantic relationship with the rich Jean Badovici (Francesco Scianna) sees her designing a villa for him on the Côte d’Azur, e1027. Badovici, however, is also promoting the work of architect and self-promoter extraordinaire Le Corbusier (Vincent Perez). Gray and Badovici grow apart as he spends more time with younger women and she more time with American lesbians, and Le Corbusier takes advantage. First he defaces her villa with his inane murals, by the end he will have pretensions to have designed the entire building, and decades later be pleading with wealthy patrons to save his hideously inappropriate murals as being the creative soul of the piece.

McGuckian’s film is so minimalist as to be quite theatrical, perhaps as a creative response to its small budget. Scenes in which Gray and other artists critique a gallery exhibition feel like they’re taking place on a small and obvious stage, as do scenes with Alanis Morrisette as Gray’s lover Marisa Damia. It’s a disorienting effect, and when combined with the extreme contrast of the sun-dappled Riviera locale of e1027, the unusually short scenes, the constant fade-out and fade-ins, and the characters’ fluid switching between French and English, it all goes towards creating an oddly dreamlike effect: an after-image is left of natural white Riviera sunlight and artificial black modernist interiors across which an impression of Gray’s life and work was sketched. This approach is unusual, and perhaps explains the slightly hysterical hostile reception afforded the movie at JDIFF 2015.

This is itself a mere sketch of a review, as I was unable to make recent press screenings, and so am working from notes on that JDIFF version. It would be surprising if it had not been reworked after that critical mauling. The Price of Desire in that cut also eschews straight naturalism by being extremely heavily scored, but Brian Byrne’s music is one of its strongest elements; indeed at times with sinuous timbres of woodwind and string he appears to be channelling the sound of the fabled French group of composers Les Six to conjure the post-WWI era depicted. Another highlight was Vincent Perez, who broke the fourth wall as a fantastically egotistical Le Corbusier; his unpleasant dogmatism pushed him close to Sartre’s continual philosophical revisions – ever protean but never wrongand James Joyce’s depiction as parasite in Nora.

“The house is a machine for living in” declared Le Corbusier, but this dream of heat and sensuality suggests Gray’s vision of form, functionality, and sleek beauty through minimalism ultimately had far more soul.

3/5

 

***The Lighthouse Cinema will host an afternoon and evening tomorrow celebrating the Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray on film, with The Price of Desire alongside companion documentary Gray Matters. Gray Matters, directed by Marco Orsini, documents the long, fascinating life and career of the architect and designer whose uncompromising vision defined the practice of modernism in decoration, design, and architecture. “We hope the day will be an engaging opportunity for the public to explore and immerse themselves with this unique and wonderfully talented Irish creative, to converse with the film-makers and Eileen Gray experts involved in both projects,” says Mary McGuckian. Q&A panels will follow screenings of Gray Matters (matinee) and The Price of Desire (evening screening). Panelists will include Mary McGuckian (writer/director), Peter O’Brien (costume designer), Jennifer Goff (Eileen Gray curator, The National Museum of Ireland), and they will be moderated by former Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald. The event will also feature an exhibition of stills from The Price of Desire, shot by Julian Lennon and published by Stoney Road Press, and a selection of Eileen Gray furniture on display, courtesy of MINIMA Ireland. Tickets can be purchased online at www.lighthousecinema.ie

 

 

February 27, 2015

Paper Souls

Belgian director Vincent Lannoo displays a more whimsical side to his usual blackly comic preoccupations in this absurdist Parisian rom-com.

Paper Souls

Paul (Stephane Guillon) is a depressed novelist, still mourning the death of his wife 5 years previous. But that’s not why the start of the movie finds him in a cemetery. He’s there to observe Madame Thomassin (Marie-Jeanne Maldague) deliver an acerbic graveside eulogy for her late husband; said eulogy being the handiwork of Paul. Afflicted with writer’s block he has not written anything except eulogies since his wife died. Thomassin’s niece Emma (Julie Gayet) approaches him to write about her late husband Nathan (Jonathan Zaccai), a photojournalist killed in Mauritania a year before, as an 8th birthday present for her son Adam (Jules Rotenberg), who is in denial that Nathan is dead. Paul accepts the job, despite pressure from his neighbour Victor (Pierre Richard) to hop in bed with the attractive widow. And then Nathan appears at his door…

From the first strains of a clarinet-heavy jazz score there’s a definite Woody Allen vibe off of this French/Belgian co-production, but not in the sense of Sophie Lellouche’s Paris-Manhattan. Whereas Lellouche successfully set up Allen scenarios, only to channel the vibe without the one-liners, TV writer Francois Uzan’s screenplay is at times riotously funny. Claudine Baschet’s Hortense, who keeps her stuffed dead cat on display, and listens to Paul’s eulogies about her on her iPod is a delightful supporting character. But it is Pierre Richard who steals the show as Paul’s elderly Jewish neighbour Victor, whose research into the Warsaw Ghetto is continually derailed by his need to meddle in Paul’s love life with endless ‘helpful’ nagging. Victor’s trip to the shops with Paul is a minor masterpiece. And that’s before addressing the return of amnesiac Nathan from the dead.

Paper Souls plays the return of Nathan, rudely interrupting the romance of Paul and Emma, totally deadpan. The question of how Nathan could have been mistakenly buried alive sees such daft reactions as local guide Diarra (Alain Azerot) musing that sometimes in Mauritania people come back, if they have a door to close. The treatment of totally nonsensical moments as perfectly normal at times emulates Allen’s similar treatments of the fantastical in Purple Rose of Cairo and Deconstructing Harry. And, to boot, Lannoo stages some wonderful slapstick as Paul attempts to sneak Nathan around Paris, without Emma or Adam seeing him, in an attempt to jog Nathan’s memory. Paper Souls then does something rather unusual. It leaves comedy behind and embraces full-blown magic realism. It’s a bold move, and is quite a gear change, but it achieves an affecting ending.

Paper Souls showcases a fine supporting turn from Pierre Richard (in what would be the Alan Arkin/Donald Sutherland role in a remake) and manages to combine rather good comedy with unexpected and affecting drama.

3.5/5

November 20, 2014

Carte Noire IFI French Film Festival: 10 Films

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Les Combattants

Thursday 20th 18.30

Teenager Arnaud (Kevin Azais) meets surly Madeleine (Adele Haenel) during his summer holidays. His summer job of building garden sheds soon takes a back seat to falling in with her strange ambition to join a elite commando unit, as director Thomas Cailley mashes up the unlikely genre combination of rom-com, teen movie, and survivalist thriller.

The Blue Room

Friday 21st 19.15

Monday 24th 18.30

Mathieu Amalric directs himself as Julien in an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel co-written with his co-star Stephanie Cleau. A taut 76 minutes sees Julien’s affair with Esther (Cleau) lead to his arrest, and Amalric will do a Q&A after the Friday screening of his spare, stylish and mysterious noir.

Two in the Wave

Friday 21st 20.30

Emmanuel Laurent and Antoine de Baecque direct this feature documentary exploring the fractured friendship of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. They meet in 1950, work together in Cahiers du Cinema, collaborate on A Bout de Souffle, and part in 1968 over the necessity of engage: almost a politico-cultural history of the 5th Republic?

Mississippi Mermaid

Saturday 22nd 13.30

Francois Truffaut directs Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Denueve in a 1969 film that met a hostile reaction. Set on Reunion Island, the romantic thriller of the plot begins to take a back seat to Truffaut’s fascination with shooting Belmondo with the male gaze usually reserved for women, before latterly haring off in even stranger directions…

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Bird People

Saturday 22nd 18.15

Director Pascale Ferran will do a Q&A after the screening of a film that mixes the highly unusual influences of Peter Pan and The Host. Josh Charles stars as an American businessman who encounters chambermaid Anais Demoustier at Roissy Airport’s Hilton. Their unexpected connection inspires two chapters: one avowedly socially realistic, the other gleefully fantastical.

Love is the Perfect Crime

Saturday 22nd 21.00

College professor and renowned lecher Marc (Mathieu Amalric) lives with his sister Marianne (Karin Viard) next to his striking university in Lausanne. When his most recent student conquest disappears her mother Anna (Maiwenn) arrives to find her. Amalric will do a Q&A about the Brothers Larrieu unsettling comedy-thriller of amnesia and romance.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Sunday 23rd 16.30

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 spectacle sees actors and actresses, including Marina Vlady, act with his direction echoing in their earpieces while he comments in voiceover on the scenes he’s shooting, and also on what he’s been reading, thinking, and feeling generally… So, a barmier(!) companion piece to Belle de Jour.

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Diplomacy

Sunday 23rd 20.15

Director Volker Schlondorff oversees a veritable acting duel between A Prophet’s Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussollier in this adaptation of Cyril Gely’s play. General von Choltitz (Arestrup) has mined Paris at Hitler’s orders, and Swedish Consul General Nordling (Dussollier) secretly tries to dissuade him from carrying out his diabolical orders to wantonly destroy France’s cultural heritage.

The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles

Saturday 29th 18.00

Director Cecile Telerman will do a Q&A about her serious comedy starring Emanuelle Beart as a spoilt Parisian, Iris. Iris lives on her husband’s fortune, but her penurious sister Josephine (Un Secret’s Julie Depardieu) has been abandoned for crocodiles by her husband; to her woes are added writing Iris’ touted novel.

Hiroshima mon amour

Sunday 30th 16.00

Before Marienbad there was Hiroshima mon amour, in which Alain Resnais left documentaries behind for this 1959 attempt to speculate on the fate of Hiroshima. Following after Night and Fog he still incorporated documentary footage but asked novelist Marguerite Duras to provide him with a story exploring despair and the impossibility of knowing apocalypse.

November 19, 2014

Any Other Business: Part IX

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a ninth portmanteau post on television of course!

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Celtic Noir

It seems I wasn’t hallucinating at the cinema a few weeks ago when I saw a teaser for An Bronntanas; in which a severed arm floated past with dead fish on a conveyor belt, a reveal I’d been expecting from the music and cinematography of the sequence; and immediately thought that was something that belonged in a Nordic Noir. TG4’s Deputy CEO, Pádhraic Ó Ciardha, says the series has broken new ground for the channel by establishing a new genre: Celtic Noir. “The direct audience feedback on social media, as well as in media commentary and reviews at home and abroad, confirms to us that An Bronntanas has hit the spot,” he said. “Regular viewers of our channel confirm that it delivers on their requirement for a súil eile approach to drama. Others remark on the innovative visual style and unique dramatic atmosphere – the Celtic Noir that has grabbed their attention in ways not unlike some recent Scandinavian TV crime drama”. TG4 has, as usual, gazumped RTE in showing the likes of Borgen and The Bridge, so it’s unsurprising that its audience noticed the family resemblance. Series Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh says, “We believe that we have delivered a drama series that can compete on a world stage. Personally, it is particularly satisfying to achieve this through the Irish language.” TG4 commissioned Fios Físe, a viewer panel solely comprising fluent Irish speakers, and found An Bronntanas being watched by over 60% of the panel, with approval ratings over 90%. Official TAM Ireland figures show the contemporary thriller has been seen by 340,000 people during the opening four episodes, making it one of TG4’s most popular original drama series ever. The show developed by Galway production company ROSG and Derry’s De Facto Films, cannily cast Cold Case star John Finn (famously unexpectedly fluent in Irish) alongside Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne), Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), Janusz Sheagall, and Charlotte Bradley; and added an impeccable sheen through cinematographer Cian de Buitléir capturing Connemara for director Tom Collins (Kings). The series finale of An Bronntanas airs tomorrow, Thursday 20th November, at 9.30pm on TG4. Check it out – its ambition stands in stark contrast to the drivel being perpetrated by RTE2 these days.

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Bright Lights, Tendentious Theses

I’ve been stewing in annoyance at Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities for some months now; and perhaps it’s the fact that rival art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has lately completed the second of two far superior BBC 4 shows (Art of China, The Art of Gothic) which has finally brought my ire with Dr James Fox’ series to the boil. Fox set out to show that the 20th Century had been shaped by events in three cities in three particular years: Vienna 1908, Paris 1928, New York 1951. So far, so interesting. Fox, however, frequently seemed to be less interested in presenting a coherent argument than in maintaining his snappy title’s cachet. Jack Kerouac, probably the worst case, was shoehorned into New York 1951 by dint of the fact that he wrote On the Road in 1951. On the Road was published in 1957. How can a work be influencing the zeitgeist if it’s not been published? It doesn’t matter when it was written. For all we know JD Salinger wrote the Great American Novel in 1985 but it’s lost in a steam-trunk in his old shed. But if it was published now it would be coming it devilishly high to talk about it as a critical intervention in the culture of Reagan’s America. Kerouac was the worst but by no means only example of Fox’s tendencies: Brando’s 1951 film performance in A Streetcar Named Desire was hailed, and the fact that he’d originated that part on Broadway in 1947 ignored; Lee Strasberg and his Method were hailed, and the fact that his pupil James Dean didn’t become a star till 1955 ignored; the Method was hailed in vague terms, but any in-depth analysis was eschewed – especially the cult-like tendencies of its adoption in America. The Sun Also Rises was too early for Paris 1928, so instead A Farewell to Arms was praised to the skies; despite being verily self-parody, and featuring a heroine rightly dismissed by Richard Yates in writing workshops. Gershwin’s An American in Paris was rendered more important in the scheme of things than Rhapsody in Blue because it fit Fox’s thesis; and to hell with any internal logic between shows as having bowed down to Schoenberg’s atonal serialism in the previous episode Gershwin’s melodicism was now equally valid – what is ‘modern’ is always wonderful, even if it contradicts what was ‘modern’ last Tuesday (which is no longer modern and therefore no longer valid). Fox is absorbing when he talks about art, but when he ventures into other fields he should take Andrew Graham-Dixon’s lead and, instead of creating titles that act as prisons, embrace wide-ranging titles that allow you to link between a few but carefully selected ideas in service of a convincing argument.

November 1, 2011

The Mystery of Midnight in Paris

It may seem excessive to devote an entire blog to analysing just why Midnight in Paris has been such a success, but I think it deserves serious consideration.

On the most superficial level it’s not hard to see why it’s been such a box office hit. It’s been given a promotional push far exceeding any Woody Allen film for a long time, even more so than the much heralded return to form (and Jonathan Rhys-Meyer star-making) Match Point. The marketing push has also largely and cunningly disguised the fact that it’s a Woody Allen film, his stock not being that high. Instead the notion of the film being a fantastical Owen Wilson romantic comedy with funny lines and a great high concept has been touted in its endless TV spots. I’ve heard some people argue convincingly that even the evocative and romantic title is enough to entice people to check it out, without the Owen Wilson selling point.

But of course once you’ve sat down in the cinema and realised with horror from the jazz soundtrack and the credits font that it’s a Woody Allen film we come to the even more surprising part of the success story – that this is not a bait and switch deal, this really is a fantastical Owen Wilson romantic comedy with screamingly funny lines and a great high concept brilliantly developed. Owen Wilson and Rachel MacAdams are fantastically ill-matched lovers and Allen grants them numerous hysterical scenes where they fail to communicate or connect, he insults her parents, or she takes the side of her obnoxious pedantic friend against him. Allen has never lost the ability to write great gags but such consistent excellence scene after scene has eluded him for years.

Then there’s the central hook – living in roaring Twenties Paris with America’s Lost Generation writers. You don’t need to have read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast or know anything about the tortured lives of the Fitzgeralds to respond with delirious happiness and recognition to Allen’s inspired recreation of them. A terse yet wise Hemingway who speaks in blunt short sentences or delivers paragraph long monologues in an abrupt monotone, a Zelda talented and charming yet also clearly troubled, an F Scott who talks like his own characters and is obviously deeply in love but also deeply torn, just feel right – and how perfect that these great writers actually do talk about writing while they get drunk nightly, and that Hemingway keeps steadily producing work for Gertrude Stein to critique for him.

But the hook is only part of the success. There is a sweetness to the movie’s romances and a maturity to its pronouncements on Golden Age thinking that are completely unexpected. Numerous critics have complained that in recent works (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Melinda & Melinda) Allen has constructed a fictive universe so exclusively preoccupied with sexual faithlessness and infidelity that it is not only impossible to care for the characters but that the whole filmic experience is also quite depressing. By contrast you feel certain Wilson’s Gil will be faithful when he finally meets his soul mate at the film’s close, just as you applaud his decision to follow Stein’s advice to write about hope instead of despair, and live that ethos in the now too.

Midnight in Paris is probably Allen’s best film since 1993’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, but just how he rediscovered his talent so spectacularly at age 76 will remain as joyfully insoluble a mystery as how Owen Wilson time-travels.

July 19, 2010

Inception

“Have you ever had a dream Neo, that you were so sure was real. What if you found yourself unable to awake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the real world and the dream world?” Among the many achievements of Christopher Nolan’s latest film is that it answers Morpheus’ rhetorical question…

I’m not idly linking Inception to The Matrix as Nolan is in dialogue with it as well as his own opus. Following a typically stylish/puzzling opening we follow corporate spies Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his right-hand man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as they bungle an industrial espionage job in a Japanese mansion highly reminiscent of Ras Al’Ghul’s mountain lair in Batman Begins. They are unexpectedly offered a way out of their predicament from a former mark Saito (Ken Watanabe). Saito wants them to reverse their usual modus operandi of ‘extracting’ secrets and instead attempt inception – to plant the seed of a destructive idea in the mind of his business rival (Cillian Murphy) – which Arthur, almost imitating Gabriel Byrne in The Usual Suspects, opines can’t be done. Cobb though takes the job, as Saito offers the bait of freeing himself from outstanding legal troubles which have prevented him returning to his family in America. Nolan’s ‘existential heist movie’ then becomes a joyous globe-trotting exercise in assembling a team for the caper – picking up a forger in Mombasa (Tom Hardy), an architect in Paris (Ellen Page), and a seriously dodgy chemist, before training (in shared dreams) in a warehouse and making contact with the mark, who complicates their plans…

That description should tell you that Nolan has somehow made a ‘realistic’ film about larceny where the scene of the crime is your unconscious mind. This depiction of the unconscious owes nothing to Dali, Freud or Jung. His thieves keep their dreamscapes impeccably realistic to dupe the mark into believing that the dream world is real. Only Ariadne’s initial gleeful construction of architecture free from the laws of physics, and collapsing dreams and malevolent subconscious projections shatter that verisimilitude. Nolan’s interest here is not plot twists or fractured chronology but layering levels of reality. This allows him the blockbuster action tension of the double jeopardy at the end of The Matrix, with Neo fighting Smith while a Squiddie assaults the Nebuchadnezzar, but even more heightened. How exactly these thieves insinuate themselves into their subjects’ dreams and manipulate them though is anything but popcorn as its conceptual simplicity but sheer craziness in execution means you must stay as alert to what is happening at every moment as with Memento. The device which allows the team to synchronise their dreams and instantly fall asleep is similar to its equivalent in The Matrix but (gloriously) its working is never explained scientifically in this ‘sci-fi thriller’, which instead prioritises Edith Piaf and inner ear discomfort in the explanation of the ingenious ‘kicks’ for waking up.

Nolan’s films obsessively follow characters wracked by guilt over the deaths of people close to them who embark on quests for justice or vengeance and Cobb is an interesting variation on this archetype. DiCaprio is strong as a haunted hero running from his guilt, aided by Hans Zimmer’s unsettling reworking of his Two-Face musical theme, and is supported by an impeccable ensemble. Page is terrific as Ariadne. Both the newest member of the team, through whose eyes we come to understand this universe’s rules, and the most grounded, it is she who pushes Cobb towards finally exorcising his demons before they endanger the team. Hardy shows immense range after his bravura turn in Bronson by being wonderfully insouciant as the forger Eames, while Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt is once again effortlessly charismatic as the quick-thinking point-man Arthur. He steals many scenes from DiCaprio and memorably gives an outstandingly delivery of one delightful word.

Inception combines caper movie with sci-fi thriller, underpinned by a meaty character arc about guilt that takes advantage of being able to give physical reality to subconscious emotional scars, to dazzle both eyes and mind. Essential viewing.

5/5

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