On the performances of ‘Inception’

Posted by · 2:48 pm · July 6th, 2010

As a number of people have pointed by asking, my review of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” doesn’t offer much perspective on the performances in the film.  The reason is probably a combination of a few things.

For starters, I wanted to be as careful as possible to write a spoiler-free review that could be enjoyed by those who haven’t seen the film, and whenever I would find myself considering this or that performance, I felt detailed commentary on plot seeping in.  So I pulled back.  But more importantly, and this is no swipe at the talent on screen, the real star of the film is Nolan and his imagination.

That sounds like a cop out, but it’s not.  I really and truly didn’t get a whole lot out of the performances.  My favorite is perhaps the least emotional turn of the piece, a steely, confident, at times physically demanding piece of work from an actor I admit rarely does it for me: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He lays claim to the character you’d probably trust sooner than the rest if you found yourself in these mind-bending circumstances and does it without histrionic swagger.  I dug that.

Leonardo DiCaprio is as good as he needs to be in the lead, but despite my recent toast to his ambition, I’ve always considered him an actor whose inflections and mannerisms announce him as “acting,” and those peculiarities rise up plenty in “Inception.” But the thing about a DiCaprio performance, for me, is that criticisms of how he executes his craft rarely — if ever — get in the way of the ride he provides as a charismatic performer.

Marion Cotillard is a favorite in a few of the reviews I’ve read.  This is an instance where it’s difficult to talk about her work without dipping into spoilers, so let me tread lightly.  Cotillard has a tenderness about her that is always slightly heartbreaking.  I can’t quite describe it, but she knows how to play frailty as an emotion and balance it expertly with strength and even defiance in an effective way.  All of that is on display here.

Ellen Page seems a bit out of place, I have to admit.  The student thing works to a point but once she becomes quite involved with the emotional struggle of DiCaprio’s character, she begins to register as a plot device and exposition pawn.  That’s less the performance’s fault than the writing, but even still, I thought Page failed to give her character much personality.

Tom Hardy is a wonderful supporting player here and Nolan gets a lot of bang for his buck in casting the “Bronson” star.  He’s going places and we all know it but his work here will remind unfamiliar audiences of something like Daniel Craig’s early work in “Road to Perdition”: a new actor with charisma to spare and an attractive self-assurance.

Ken Watanabe has a focus here that has become a trademark, while Cillian Murphy is serviceable as a man having the wool pulled over his eyes.

And finally, Dileep Rao and Tom Berenger have brief, perfectly fine performances to give.  It’s nice to see the latter in a big production, much like it was wonderful to see Eric Roberts sounding off in “The Dark Knight.” Michael Caine’s role is so small it honestly doesn’t need mentioning, but it’s a nice little cameo and Caine knows how to act.  So, there.

And that’s where I come down on the acting in “Inception.” None of it distracts, but none if it ultimately plays into what I believe to be the wizardry and at times expert execution of the piece.  Hopefully that clears up everyone’s questions.  Along with the review and extended thoughts on Oscar prospects, I think I’ve probably said all I have to say on “Inception” for the time being.

And truth be told, I don’t think anyone could nail this film down after one viewing.  I’ll be saddling up to another tomorrow night and hope to pierce the mystery further.  Perhaps the performances will register more profoundly on a second glance.

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101 responses so far

  • 1 7-18-2010 at 9:50 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Totally agree with Chad.