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Building up to the release of the final Batman film in the Chris Nolan trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, I took it upon myself to re-watch as well as look at some of Christopher Nolan’s films that I had yet to see. I respect the man as being one of the great directors of the past decade and honestly he could continue that for as long as he sees fit. After watching each film, the man has shown us that he can not only write us into a confused mess but he can also create some amazing moments of intensity both emotional and thrilling.

Following, Nolan’s very first feature film, is a pleasant little surprise and does set the bar for what would come later on for Mr. Nolan. The film centers around a man that follows random people but runs into trouble when he begins to follow a thief who catches him in the act. He then takes him under his wing and becomes a sort of mentor for the man who buys into the ideals of the thief. The area where Nolan shines most has to be in his writing. Mainly because of the signature Nolan payoff at the end that follows along with his later films like Memento or The Prestige. While I didn’t find this payoff to be on that level, I still found it to be a clever detour taken by Nolan and created more depth for the two main characters in the film, the thief and the man who follows people. The film has a very French New Wave feeling to it due to its on-location filming which couples with the way that Nolan decided to shoot the film, he makes most everything happen in what looks like reality. This film is no where near his best piece of work but for a first feature film it is a decent presentation for Christopher Nolan. It also has a few call-ins to his later films. The actor who plays the man who follows people is later in Batman Begins, there is a Batman logo on one of the doors of the house’s that they steal from, and the thief’s name is Cobb just like Leonardo DiCarprio’s in Inception.

Nolan’s next films is, in my opinion, one of his best and that is Memento. While Following was a great work of writing, Memento has strong writing but is built of its great payoff which stems from the amazing performance by Guy Pearce. In that regard I link this movie to what is highly regarded as Nolan’s best work which is The Dark Knight. I do this because I feel that the reason these two films are great is because of the fantastic performances given in them; the actors, Guy Pearce and Heath Ledger, make these films above just a normal great Nolan script and give him the option of working off a fantastic performance. I feel like this is what was the problem in Insomnia mainly because it wasn’t a script written by Chris or John Nolan and Nolan’s creativity didn’t really come through the movie as it did in his other work, but I will dive into that more later on. Memento has a wonderfully crafted script with a payoff that catches the audience off guard more than any other payoff due to the lack of obvious foreshadowing leading up to it. Honestly, I found this film to be greater than some of the works that many regard as Nolan’s greatest work because of Pearce’s performance and the way Nolan tells the story.

Insomnia, Nolan’s third feature film, is, in my opinion, his weakest. Not saying that this movie is bad in any regard but matched up with his other work it lacks what makes Christopher Nolan truly special. While the story is an interesting twist on a normal cop thriller and the fact that it has Al Pacino playing a cop, the problem I have with this movie is the weak payoff and the fact that while Robin Williams was great as the villain, I don’t think he was masked as well as the story was acting like he was so when the payoff came I wasn’t shocked at all and anticipated what was coming and was disappointed. I felt like maybe the problems with this movie came from Christopher Nolan not writing the script which probably came from him starting to get into the major movie industry and not getting immediate control over the work he was doing. While I felt like maybe if he was given control more over the writing, the movie could of developed better and in turn been better as a whole I still respect the work he did in it and he definitely created a quite original cop thriller that I enjoyed just not as much as the other Nolan films.

Batman Begins is Nolan’s fourth feature film and is the one when he really hits his stride into creating a stellar film for a massive audience. Up to this point he has built up different aspects of the way in which he makes a film that makes him special. The payoff and way he used Pearce’s performance in Memento, the use of high profile actors like Pacino or Williams in Insomnia in a intelligence crime thriller, and the fact that he was writing this movie all added up to success in this film. After watching this recently I also found that this film could be more important to the story and ideals of the next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, than the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight. The story with Ra’s Al Ghoul and the burning of Gotham seems like it will play into his next film just judging off of trailers. This film, while not nearly as good as The Dark Knight, still has many aspects within it that make it a very very strong film but I don’t see it as one of Nolan’s best or even a top two contender for best Batman film ever. I believe that mainly because this film is all about Bruce Wayne and how he became Batman and while I think Christian Bale is the best Batman so far, he is not the best Bruce Wayne, that goes to Michael Keaton and because of this I feel like this film suffers because Bale is not built into that role as well as he is in the Batman role which is where he excels and I even put his training with Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) into that Batman role because he was becoming Batman there. But Nolan still makes this a stellar film based on his clever and intelligent story, the strength of the supporting characters such as Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson, and the fact that he created a new breed of superhero movies that are intelligent but also give the audience the action that they expect.

 The Prestige, is Nolan’s fifth feature film, and while it tries to take a page from Memento and blow the audience’s minds, it achieves in a lesser scale while still giving one of his finest pieces of writing. As I said, I parallel this movie with Memento because it is almost the same formula in each movie just The Prestige has a well more prestigious cast. Both films are building off of broken story lines that finish with a mind-blowing payoff. This payoff is where the difference lies in between Memento being incredible and The Prestige being great. When I watched both films the first time, the payoff got me and it came out of no where and my mind was blown. But when I gave each one a second viewing I could piece together where the payoff was happening in The Prestige while Memento was a tougher puzzle to piece together in order to find the payoff before it happens. That being said this film is still amazing and the performances of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give Nolan two people to work off of and both have great scenes together and alone making this movie a great work of art by Christopher Nolan.

The Dark Knight, Nolan’s sixth feature film, is easily his crowning jewel so far in his career. I know that this movie is always getting praised but when you re-watch it you understand why, it is absolutely perfectly done. While many, including myself, find that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the defining quality of the film I found that in my latest viewing that Chris Nolan deserves some credit for an outstanding directing job starting with the scene where the police are taking Harvey Dent to the County jail. Once that part takes place, Nolan takes off and never looks back. The intensity and pure adrenaline that he creates is crazy and while Ledger carries the first half of the film with his performance, Chris Nolan picks up the second half with Ledger and creates the epicness that surround this film. He puts all the parts that he had in his previous films such as the great payoffs, Nolan working off of multiple great performances, and finally Nolan coming into his own as being a fantastic large scale director. There is not just one payoff in this film but mutliple and in varying points in the film. Not only is Ledger great in this film but also Oldman, Gyllenhaal, Eckhart, Bale, Freeman, and Caine come up and give their best performances so far in the series. Then finally, Christopher Nolan starts to show why I made the statement that he is one of the greatest directors of the last decade as he creates intensity and pairs it with fantastically shot action scenes. This movie is incredible and I know it gets a lot of praise all the time but watch it again and realize why it does.

Inception, Nolan’s seventh and most recent feature film, is a testament to outstanding writing and a large scale revealing of Nolan’s stellar directing. The writing of this film is the true star as Nolan gives the mass audience a taste of the intelligence in The Prestige or Memento. But this time he couples that with some high octane action. The one thing that this film lacks is that great performance that Nolan can build off of that he had in The Dark Knight, Memento, and The Prestige but he takes what happened in the second half of The Dark Knight where he is creating intensity with action and letting the script and the actors create the interesting story line to set up his crafty directing. This is the movie where Nolan truly shined in his directing which is apparent in scenes such as Cobb going back to visit his memories of Mal, how he shot the fight scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt where the gravity was gone, and the finale of the movie where Nolan created the payoff both through his script but also by working off DiCaprio and Watanabe as they give strong performances in the opening and closing of the film. This is one of Nolan’s finest works and that comes from his great directing and writing which actually dominates the amazing ensemble cast that never really has one character stepping into the spotlight more than the other.

Now after watching all of these movie makes me hope for even more greatness in The Dark Knight Rises. I hope that Nolan takes the great directing that he did in the second half of The Dark Knight and the entire film in Inception and does that the entire time in this film because I truly believe that this will be the movie that can lift Nolan into director immortality. He has made classics and he has made classic blockbuster. He is making creating intelligent blockbusters for the summer an art and really doesn’t have a rival yet in the way he makes films. The Avengers is a fantastic movie and a great superhero movie but it doesn’t compete with the style of Nolan’s Batman films and honestly as a film doesn’t match up. The Dark Knight Rises should be an epic conclusion to this Batman series of Nolan’s but it also should open the floodgates to Christopher Nolan and his films.

My top 7 list of his films:

1) The Dark Knight
2) Inception
3) Memento
4) The Prestige
5) Batman Begins
6) Following
7) Insomnia

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2 thoughts on “A Study of Christopher Nolan

  1. Great overview of the work of Nolan, one of my favorite directors. I think you're right in that he is a special kind of director – one with a signature style, great sense of creating thrills/suspense, an eye of acting talent to bring his story to life, and a great storyteller. My order would be alittle different – Momento, Inception, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Following, Insomnia – but we agree on alot of things!

  2. Glad you agree. I like your list as well but I just can't put The Prestige or Memento over TDK mainly due to the fact that that movie has such fantastic writing coupled with signature Nolan action scenes.

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