Tag Archive for Leonardo DiCaprio

Movie Review: Inception (7/17/10)

Movie Poster: Inception


Directed by Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan

Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur
Ellen Page as Ariadne
Tom Hardy as Eames
Ken Watanabe as Saito
Dileep Rao as Yusuf
Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer, Jr.
Tom Berenger as Browning

CLR Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Still: Inception

Ellen Page (as Ariadne) and Leonardo DiCaprio (as Cobb) in the sci-fi action film Inception
[Photo by Melissa Moseley]

An Exploration into the Complexities of the Human Mind
Results in the Best Film of 2010


Try as we might, we can’t begin to comprehend the complexity, necessity, and peculiarity of dreams. Scientists, writers, and filmmakers have delved into the human mind but the unconscious brain remains a completely alien space. When it comes to fictional portrayals of the inner sanctum of the mind, nothing has ever done it better than Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Inception, written and directed by Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento), is easily the best film of 2010 (so far). The film successfully maps out the complex topography of the human mind, the terrifying and exhilarating nature of dreams, and in so doing, becomes as unforgettable as it is infinitely watchable. Inception is one of the year’s most anticipated films due to its teaser trailers, which left everything to the imagination while depicting stunningly malleable cityscapes and midair fight scenes underscored by throbbing orchestral music. If you did your research after catching one of the teasers, you might’ve grasped a vague concept involving idea theft, psychological espionage, and the architecture of dreams. What you didn’t realize was the sheer artistry of the concept, the multi-layered, misunderstood, and labyrinthine nature of the human mind, and the way film—in itself a dreamlike medium—can portray the landscape of the psyche.

Frankly, it would take an entire review to elucidate the concept of Inception (and besides, you may need a second viewing to fully grasp the myriad details you may have missed upon first, slack-jawed viewing). In a world where technology exists that allows us to dive inside another person’s brain, to commit intellectual and emotional thievery, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best “Extractor” in the business. His team includes Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is something like an anesthesiologist, controlling the entering and leaving of the dream state; and Nash (Lukas Haas), the “architect,” or engineer of dreamscapes. In the first scenes of the film, Cobb and his team meet a formidable match in Saito (Ken Watanabe). Though their extraction mission fails and they lose Nash in the process, Saito offers them a job: convince Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) to break up the massive empire left to him in the wake of his father’s death. Without ado, Cobb picks up a new architect, a college student named Ariadne (Ellen Page), and recruits Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao). They begin scheming an “inception,” or planting of an idea, in Fischer’s brain, but the concept of depositing an idea in someone’s head isn’t nearly as simple as it may seem. As the film progresses, we discover that not all is well with Cobb, that his past and his subconscious are interfering with the dreams he manipulates.

Inception is a psychological action-thriller that completely redefines the genre. Flawless pacing, spectacular effects, gorgeous sets and cinematography, and ingenious writing interweave to create a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As a species, we are defined by our innate curiosity, our desire to seek answers to the most complex questions. Inception doesn’t offer answers, per se, but poses a theoretical concept that seems infinitely possible, mostly due to the brilliant construction of the physical dream world. As Cobb and Ariadne (whose namesake in Greek mythology is the goddess of the labyrinth) learn to engineer and navigate their collective dreams, the world turns topsy-turvy. Gravity and physics—those concepts on which the very fabric of our sanity is built—become meaningless. The result is dizzying and magnificent. One hesitates to use those old clichés, to call such a movie a “nail biter” or an “edge of your seat thriller,” but clichés are there for a reason, and viewers will most likely find themselves grinning, cringing, and collectively breathing sighs of relief (especially during and after an intense anti-gravity fight scene).

The film’s performers are wholly compelling in their respective roles. Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy have a cheeky rapport that’s necessary for such an intense film; DiCaprio is, as usual, utterly convincing; Page (Juno), whose stature and mannerisms still peg her as a very young actress, displays laudable composure and intelligence; the insanely gorgeous Marion Cotillard is both ethereal and eerie as Cobb’s wife Mal. Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight garnered critical praise unlike any other superhero movie—because it wasn’t one. Part of what set that film apart from others in its genre was its pacing, editing, and music. Cinematographer Wally Pfister returned to work with Nolan on Inception, creating dreamscapes so real and yet so unimaginable. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland utilized patterns, textures, and a gorgeous palette to emphasize the hyper-reality of a manufactured reverie. Editor Lee Smith fashioned a movie whose pacing speeds the heart and leaves you breathless; a few jarring cuts may distract the viewer, but that’s purposeful. Hans Zimmer, whose music for The Dark Knight helped cement that film as one of the best in the last decade, returned to create an equally gorgeous and thrumming score that buffets the film’s fantastic events. The special effects crew painstakingly molded a world where nothing is as stable as it seems. All the threads weave together impeccably, leaving a finished product that feels completely original and flawless—a masterpiece.

Film itself is a dreamlike medium whose capacity for imagination is infinite. The Lumière brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station thrilled nineteenth-century viewers by making a train hit them head-on, and Georges Méliès’s La Voyage dans le Lune (1902) was one of the first films to depict the thrillingly impossible. Those early filmmakers may not have possessed modern technology, but they understood one thing: film is a fantastic and unreal medium, a place in which the viewer can escape everyday life and enter a whole other world where nothing is impossible. Inception is the latest incarnation of that concept: the impossible becomes reality and the human mind is laid bare for all to see, for better or worse. In the case of Inception, we are all the better for it.

Movie Review: Shutter Island (2/20/10)

Movie Poster: Shutter Island

Shutter Island

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane

Teddy Daniels – Leonardo DiCaprio
Chuck Aule – Mark Ruffalo
Dr. Cawley – Ben Kingsley
Dr. Naehring – Max von Sydow
Dolores – Michelle Williams
Rachel 1 – Emily Mortimer
Rachel 2 – Patricia Clarkson
George Noyce – Jackie Earle Haley
Warden – Ted Levine

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Shutter Island

Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) and Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) are two detectives sent from the mainland to investigate a mysterious disappearance on an island prison for the criminally insane.
[Photo credit: Andrew Cooper, Copyright © 2010 by Paramount Pictures.]

A Spooky, Nuanced Thriller That Plays Like a Forties Noir

Martin Scorsese’s newest picture Shutter Island is a creepy cinematic passage into paranoia, guilt, and insanity—a classic thriller with undertones of gothic romance and the failed American dream. The trailers, which anyone who’s taken in a movie in the last year has seen, reveal little but hint at a lot. Fortunately, the movie is a great watch even if the conclusion may leave some audiences grumbling. Its tone, script, cinematography, and acting are laudable at worst and pitch-perfect at best.

Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, penned the novel on which Shutter Island is based. The book and film are set in 1954 in the Boston Harbor Islands, one of which houses the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The movie opens on a ferry carrying Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, having a slightly different reaction to the open sea than he did in his “king of the world” days) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to Ashecliffe to investigate the disappearance of a patient. As Teddy dives headfirst into the inquiry, twists, switchbacks, and surprises take him on a disturbing spiral into the human mind.

Director of photography Robert Richardson and extraordinary production designer Dante Ferretti fashioned a creepy, physical manifestation of the inner workings of the psyche—and the result is a film that makes you feel like you might be going a little nuts yourself as the layers unfold. The island is a foreboding and utterly spectacular landscape of jutting cliffs, black shale, and eerily stormy skies. The hospital itself is a set of beautiful red brick buildings that scream New England. Vivid green landscaping and lovingly pruned trees cradle them, creating an ominously safe haven in a forbidding setting. The film looks like a Lovecraftian nightmare with a touch of the haunted, gothic feel of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. It feels classically Old Hollywood; each shot, every scene, is choreographed perfectly, the subjects centered and lit beautifully. The composition of each frame is skillfully rendered (the storyboards are probably a sight to behold), and the editing is completely invisible. The script, adapted by Laeta Kalogridis, is stylish and gripping. Despite its length (two hours eighteen minutes), most viewers will be rapt throughout as the narrative unravels enigma upon mystery.

America was a strange place to live in the ‘50s, and Shutter Island’s Teddy is emblematic of the paranoia, fear, and guilt that plagued the American public. Although it’s a suspense thriller, the film is also a sort of history lesson, a journey into the bizarre world of the Red Scare, H-bomb anxiety, and the aftermath of World War II. From the way the guards treat Teddy, he says, “You’d think insanity was catchin’.” In a sense, in 1950s America it was. McCarthyism and the atom bomb were at the forefront of news, and Americans never knew what was coming next. The filmmakers rely on the tension of the period to provide a clever, nuanced narrative.

The movie boasts a cast full of A-listers: DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, and Max von Sydow. Scorsese and DiCaprio, friends who have worked together four times, have a kind of symbiosis that allows each to do his best work. Michelle Williams, an Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain, is incredible in her role as Teddy’s wife Dolores, who appears to him mostly in nightmares and hallucinations. Williams imbues each of her scenes with a haunting vulnerability. The supremely underrated Patricia Clarkson (The Green MileVicky Cristina Barcelona) plays a soothsayer residing in a cave, lending a mythological ambiance to the film. Von Sydow and Kingsley, both complete pros, are perfect in their respective roles.

Robbie Robertson, a Scorsese confidante and veteran of The Band, was charged with compiling already existing tracks into a suitable score. The result is heavy on thrumming violins, discordant horns, minor chords, and shuddering bass. Scorsese knows his movie music, and frankly it works here. The director’s affinity for Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Vertigo) is clear, and Robertson managed to use the same principles that make Herrmann’s music incredible to meld a series of classical pieces into an effectively spooky ensemble piece that elevates the movie without distracting.

Shutter Island was originally scheduled for release in October, and when it got pushed back to February, everyone wondered why a Scorsese movie would miss prime Oscar season. It’s certainly one of the year’s most heavily advertised movies, and from the full twenty minutes of trailers that play before the movie gets underway, one imagines studios jostling in the figurative line to get their trailers in the peak spots. It’ll undoubtedly be lucrative, and may see Oscar nominations next year. The coup de grace, which may not be a surprise to canny moviegoers (and may leave some disappointed), is fraught with enormously eerie imagery. At its heart, the movie is made with the classics in mind. It’s a brilliantly made and enjoyable film that owes a lot to its predecessors, and if not for its sense of homage it might have been cloying. If you go in expecting a great story told in the compelling fashion of films noir, you won’t be disappointed.