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Friday, July 16, 2010

inception ending

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'Inception's' head game is a heist caper at heart

You get the job. Then you get the gang together to pull it off. It may be diamonds, or cash; it may be strictly business, or it may be personal.

Something about the heist movie genre appeals to the larcenous weasel in all of us. (You especially; your character deficiencies are more pronounced than most.) When I was a kid I couldn't get enough of capers such as the original "Ocean's 11" (1960), which today is worth revisiting for its Saul Bass credit sequence and not much else, and yet that twist ending … and those shark-skin suits … and that Vegas neon….

The heist genre preys on our greed, our taste for order and a precisely calibrated plan, and most of all on our delight in complication — in best-laid plans going at least a little bit flooey.

Opening today, writer-director Christopher Nolan's "Inception" cloaks its narrative in a series of surreal overcoats, dream-layers designed to intrigue and amaze. It is at heart a heist movie, though, and I suspect if the film goes over well with the public beyond a strong opening week, it'll be because "Inception" places a familiar genre inside a visual landscape that seems new: a little "Matrix," a little Dali, plus just enough "Rififi" in its honor among thieves to honor the tradition.

The famous centerpiece of director Jules Dassin's ice-cold, diamond-hard 1955 classic is a wordless (though not silent) extended sequence depicting a jewelry robbery. If you have not seen "Rififi" in a while, or ever, you must. It paved the way for so much. So many Hollywood heist movies that came in its wake favored the breezy amorality — the "gang comedy" vibe — underneath the notion of The Big Score. There's nothing merry about the tight-lipped, existentially doomed crew in "Rififi."

In a lighter mood, after the cloud of the Hollywood blacklist had passed, Dassin went on to make "Topkapi" (1964) and the die was cast for many of the heist films of the '60s and '70s. "Inception" is a very different animal. But the basics remain the same. One last score. Complicated plans, complicated by the unforeseen.

What's your favorite movie heist? Be it a bank shot, a hot rock or a mint job, hit the comments board at chicagotribune.com/talkingpictures, or email me at mjphillips@tribune.com.

Movies on the radio: Michael Phillips chats with Greg Jarrett in the 6:30 a.m. hour Friday on WGN-AM 720.

And movies on TV: Phillips and A.O. Scott co-host "At the Movies," airing 10:35 p.m. (after late local news) Saturdays and 10:30 a.m. Sundays on WLS-Ch. 7 through Aug. 15.


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