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I’m trying to understand the social backlash that has plagued Ben Affleck a lot until recently.  He isn’t a terrible actor – quite good at times, especially in this movie – but I supposed he suffered through making some poor decisions, like Gigli and Surviving Christmas, to name a couple movies.  Maybe a couple years away from the limelight helped, since a lot of what he’s done recently (which I’ve only seen a couple) was well received, if not for him, than for the ensemble casts that he was in.

Actually, he was great in Extract in a smaller role in a movie that really didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Coming back to the Town, which is the second film he’s directed (the first being Gone Baby Gone, which was great), and he’s found himself a niche in directing.  He does a commendable job here, creating a tense, often chaotic environment interlaced with the quieter sequences involving Doug (his character) and Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager that he takes as hostage and eventually develops feelings for.  The editing could have used some work, especially in the latter sequences just mentioned, but all in all, it wasn’t bad.  The action sequences, which include several gunfights and a car chase though narrow Charlestown streets, are easily the best filmed sequences in the film.  Especially the car chase: the narrow streets and the multi-storied residential buildings that the bank robbers and police cars fly through create a kind of claustrophobic feel that threatens everyone at every turn, not knowing who or what will jump out or fly out at them at every turn.  It’s great stuff.

The story itself is involving, and relies on some solid acting from everyone, including Affleck, Hall, and Jeremy Renner, who plays the often-times psychotic one in the group of robbers.  Doug wants out of the bank robbery business, often saying that he’ll do just one more hit before calling it quits.  He finds his way out of Charlestown with Claire.  It’s actually this relationship that provides some pretty good material for the film: she’s heavily affected by being taken hostage after the opening bank robbery, and initially, Doug – who has her license courtesy of Jem (Renner) – is out to keep tabs on her, seeing if she knows anything about who the robbers were (and she knows, but I won’t say).  Doug walks a fine line throughout, between his relationship with Claire, his familial relationship with Jem and the other robbers, the florist Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite, who comes away with the best line in the movie), and the FBI, relentlessly in pursuit of Doug and the others.

The last third of the film wraps as nicely as possible, though it stretches credibility a little bit, especially in the epilogue.  The film the work though, since everything that occurs has some sort of establishment during the film.

In short, another great effort from Affleck, who is making a nice career resurgence that started with Hollywoodland and continues here.

B+

Note: I still need to see Hollywoodland as well.  Just adding that in there.

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The other Mads Mikkelsen film (in the trailer, he’s the one telling Perseus that he’s not merely a man).  Clearly the first one is better, but I digress.

In fact, I can write this review in less than a hundred words (including the first paragraph).  It’s what you expect.  Exactly (well, just about) the same at the original, now with updated special effects.  Special effects are decent, though somewhat sketchy at times (scorpions and Medusa aren’t good).  Some blathering about choosing your own destiny, you know how that goes.

Rent. Glad I didn’t see it in 3-D.

Warning: due to the nature of this film, there may be spoilers.

Now then…

Usually by now I have some sort of idea as to what I can say about a particular movie, especially for the ones that I write a week late.  They’re easy enough to figure out and write about, noting their qualities and their short comings.

Christopher Nolan, sir, you’ve given everyone something to chew on.  Like that overcooked steak that’s impossible to chew, or, for a more vegetarian friendly example for myself, … erm, I really can’t say.

Anyway, this film has its markings in several genres.  It’s definitely science fiction, that’s for sure, but also has the neo-noir influence wrapped in it as well (the sci-fi noir, as some may go on and call this).  It’s a thriller, and one may consider it a heist thriller as well, at least that’s how the most recent trailers tried to play it as (successfully I might add).

There is no time or location setting: this film could take place right now or twenty years in the future.  Everyday architecture is used quite well, with Paris and the chase scene in Mombasa (filmed in Tangiers) being the best used.

But it’s the dreams everyone is wondering about.  The dream within a dream within a dream, and that’s the riddle, the maze.

In essence, that’s the allure of the film, trying to figure out the riddle.  I’m curious as to whether there is one – actually, the last shot is the biggest riddle, which I will refuse to discuss here – as the film is essentially a heist thriller.  The riddle – the dreams and more dreams – give the film its impressive depth.

There are two main plot threads, both involving the concept of “inception”, which involves planting something, primarily an idea or thought, within the dream to make someone believe that it was their own idea or thought.  Dom Cobb is the character central to both plots: he’s hired by Saito to plant an idea into the son and future owner of a rival energy corporation to disband the company before it becomes a true monopoly.  The other involves Dom’s wife, Mal, and I’ll leave that one at that.

For the main plot, Dom creates a team to help infiltrate the mind of Robert Fischer (the son): Arthur, the Point Man for all of his missions; Eames, the Forger, who assumes the identity of a person that the infiltrated knows; Ariande, the Architect, who is required to build the dreams, each one more elaborate than the next; and Yusuf, the Chemist, who has a chemical that allows the dreamers to stay asleep for a much longer period of time, with an unexpected payoff for anyone who “dies” within the dream.

As you can see, this film is filled to the brim with plot, which unfortunately sacrifices a lot of character development.  Everyone has some semblance of a personality, usually to make their required traits or skills.  Dom is the only one who gets a lot of development though, much in part due to the film being as much about him as it is about attempting to infiltrate a man’s dreams.  Because of this, he’s the only one we can really care for, even as we learn stuff about him and his wife, and what he ended up doing along the way.

The lack of character hurts the film only slightly, as this is a plot driven film from beginning to end.  It’s tightly wound as much as it can be, which, given the way the movie is as layered as the dreams are, is truly incredible to behold.  It’s not every day when you go to a movie like this one and be required to think.

Actually, I do it all the time (look at most of the indie movies I’ve seen this year), but it’s rare for a major studio release to give us something this thick and juicy to think about.  That’s probably what the science fiction genre allows for us to do is think, and to think in especially complicated ways, often about the meaning of life.  Inception gives us a little piece of that, throwing us into a world of dreams that may or may not be like ours.

It’s also an exciting action thriller, and as such, you can still switch your brain off enough to not have to think about everything and just enjoy it.  Seriously, this movie is almost impossible to beat: a deep thinking movie and an excellently filmed crime thriller to boot.

In all honesty, keep your brain on.  You’ll find that you’ll enjoy it much more if you allow yourself to ponder everything that the film throws at you.

Especially the last scene.

A-

Note: the score by Hans Zimmer is equally as impressive.  Listen to it at times and you find a hint of sci-fi noir in it as well, almost like the Vangelis score from Blade Runner.