Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Christopher Nolan's Anti Heroes

Everyone's aware of Christopher Nolan these days. He's managed to become one of the most successful directors going. The remarkable thing is that he's seemed to do this on his own terms. While capable of astounding visuals, the most striking thing about him is that he always keeps a focus on story and is usually heavily involved in the writing of his movies. His stories always focus on leading characters who live in the grey areas. Nolan was well regarded from his first film, "Following" and increased his following every time out. His next feature "Memento" left many amazed at his story telling techniques. With "Inception" he accomplished something astounding, developing a big budget blockbuster based on an original story, rather than a proven property (and having that film make a lot of money.) His Batman trilogy would indicate that he isn't afraid to be mainstream either, but it's obvious that even so he'll tell the story his way, giving us a vision of Batman on a scope never seen before on film. Anti heroes have always been his fascination, perhaps because their struggle has the most story potential. They play out the dilemmas most of us face on an exaggerated scale. We don't know that they'll do the "right thing" and many times, they don't even know what that is, as they are usually caught up in their own obsessions. Nolan seems obsessed with obsession, fortunately for us, as we can count on this giving us an engrossing story.

(full review)

Nolan's first film, a black and white neo noir story about a harmless loser, Bill (Jeremy Theobald) who imagines himself a writer. Without gainful employment, he makes a game of following people on the street, for no reason but his own amusement. While this is creepy, it doesn't really break any laws. He's presented with a moral dilemma when he's befriended by a far more sophisticated con man, Cobb (Alex Haw) who sees him as the perfect patsy. Taken in by the excitement of burglarly, particularly the voyeuristic aspects of it (they move items just to let their victims know they were looking at them) and of course the easy money, it doesn't take long before he becomes a whole new person, complete with haircut and nice new wardrobe. Once a woman becomes involved, it becomes clear that he's in way over his head.
"You're developing a taste for it - the violating, the voyeurism... it's definitely you."

(full review)

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is out to avenge his wife's murder. The problem is he can't form new long term memories. He was prepared for his condition however, by one of his cases as an insurance investigator, Sammy Jankis, a man who had a similar condition. Using a system of writing notes to himself, tattooing the most important bits on his body, he devotes himself to finding his wife's killer. Assisted by Officer Teddy Gammell (Joe Pantoliano) and crossing paths with Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) it becomes clear that those aware of Leonard's condition make full use of it to achieve their ends, and Leonard is not above fooling himself in order to find and kill the man named John G.

"Do I lie to myself to be happy?"

(full review)

Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a legendary homicide detective under investigation by Internal Affairs.His partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan)is under scrutiny as well and considering talking to IA, causing friction between the partners. Dormer asserts that I.A.'s findings could let many convicted criminals free.Dormer and Eckhart are sent to Alaska to help investigate the murder of a young girl. Local cop, Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) who idolizes Dormer helps with the homicide case although she's usually sees no more than misdemeanors. Dormer tells her, "It's all about small stuff. You know, small lies, small mistakes. People give themselves away, same in misdemeanors as they do on murder cases. It's just human nature." In the search for the killer, Eckhart is killed in a manner which Dormer covers up. Before long he finds their homicide suspect, local author Walter Finch (Robin Williams.) The trouble is that Walter knows one of Dormer's secrets. Dormer's stress is compounded by the perpetual daylight of the town, and being unable to sleep as a result. Dormer has to figure out what how to bring in the murderer without sabotaging himself, hoping he hasn't made any of the mistakes that he told Ellie about.
A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him.

The Prestige:

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are rival magicians who out together working for the experienced Cutter (Michael Caine) When Borden ties a knot which ends up killing Angier's wife, who can't get free for a water escape trick, the two start a path of enmity. Angier is a gifted showman while Borden is a better technician. The two sabotage each other's acts, but it all changes when Borden introduces a new trick, "The Transported Man" seemingly vanishing and reappearing on stage an impossible distance away for one person to travel. Angier becomes obsessed with the trick, and turns to Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to build him a device to perform it. He builds a device but advises Angier "I add only one suggestion on using the machine: destroy it. Drop it to the bottom of the deepest ocean. Such a thing will bring you only misery." Their games of oneupmanship costs both of them more than they could've imagined. For a man to be in two places at once it seems, there must be quite a sacrifice.
If you understand an obsession then you know you won't change my mind.

(full review)

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief. He doesn't steal material things, but the secrets hidden in your dreams, a talent called "extraction." He's the best extractor there is able to manipulate scenarios in dreams within dreams. However, he is unable to return to the US and can't return to see his children, until a man, Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers to get him cleared to return to the US, if he can perform an "Inception," which rather than his usual extraction, is planting an idea in someone's head so that they believe they thought of it. Although believed impossible, Cobb knows it can be done. He assembles the best team possible to do it, including his assistant Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) a gifted "architect" Ariadne (Ellen Page) to build the dream worlds they'll need, a forger, Eames (Tom Hardy,) who can duplicate appearances in dreams, and Yusuf, (Dileep Rao) a chemist who can ensure people stay asleep long enough for it to work. Cobb's ex wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard) starts appearing and sabotaging his plans, prompting questions about Cobb's past, and how he knows that Inception can work. Ultimately, the difference between dream worlds and the real world becomes nearly impossible tell and we have to wonder if Cobb himself can always tell the difference.
Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate.

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises

Batman is the most popular superhero who most straddles the anti-hero line. Although he's been portrayed in many ways over the years, from the cheesiness of the TV Series and "Batman Forever" to Tim Burton's dark vision, Nolan's treatment starts it all over. He takes an in depth look at the darker side of the super hero. Batman is a "super hero" who is only "super" due to his bank account, intelligence, and obsession, which started the night he saw his parents murdered in the street. In Nolan's trilogy, we see the obsession with go from beginning to end, from the start of his training, in "Batman Begins" which seemed to be less about Batman than the guy who would become Batman, to "becoming a villain" in "The Dark Knight" in order to leave the city some hope, and then back again in "The Dark Knight Rises." While well done super hero movies are not the exception they once were, Nolan's Batman trilogy proves that more can be done with the genre, than fast paced fighting and impressive special effects (not that he skimps on either.) Even for superheroes, the best stories are human stories, and here's a tremendous one, Batman, flaws and all. 
You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.


Unknown said...

I absolutely love all of these movies. I adore the grey people because you don't know what they'll do. Heroes always do the right thing and anti-heroes go their own way. The Dark Knight is the perfect example of someone who becomes a hero simply because of his quest for vengeance. He stumbles into being a hero, he didn't start down that road for purely good intentions, he wanted to kill the people that killed his parents.

Nolan takes these people and creates these incredible, twisted tales around them. I get drawn into his film every time.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Mel! I totally agree. that's where the good stories are!

Zoey Francis (Pen Name) / Marianne Seavers said...

Great article, Brent! I've seen all of Christopher Nolan's movies except for 'Following'. He's such a masterful storyteller and I look forward to seeing 'Man of Steel', even though he's not directing. It'll be interesting to see how much he influences the quality of that film as an executive producer.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Zoey! I'm happy about his producer involvement there too. At least it shows they're taking Superman seriously. I'm very hopeful about that one so far.