Inside review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Inside is a bottle movie that throws in some solid ingredients and shakes it for 105 minutes. It throws in the always-reliable Willem Dafoe and gives him a fancy enclosed spot to experience a wealth of emotional developments amid his survival. The results are better than expected for this premise but not much more than one would expect from Dafoe delivering a primarily one-man show.
Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief who breaks into a Manhattan high-rise penthouse to steal a valuable piece while the owner is away on an extended vacation. His plans go awry, his crew leaves him behind, and the penthouse locks down. The place is locked tight, and the air conditioning has busted as the interior shifts between incredibly hot and cold. With no active plumbing and very little food present, he grows bitter and frustrated with the trap he has fallen into. Aside from a skylight high above him, there’s no means of exit as he watches the world pass by through the security cameras of the building and the skyline of the large windows.
Dafoe’s time locked inside this environment has its highs and lows in various forms. His performance is stellar, but I’d expect as much from such a fantastic talent. The problem is that you can feel him trying to get blood from a stone with this material. Scenes of Dafoe lamenting the empty nature of art when surrounded by it for days are compelling in bits and pieces. Watching him rub his face with ice when the temperature gets too hot is only effective for so long. His banter ranges from frustrated critiques of the world to meandering mumbles of jokes and songs to pass the time.
The profound nature of this material can only go so far, even for being trapped in a penthouse surrounded by surreal artwork, ranging from elaborate paintings to detailed sculptures. His mind wanders as he ponders his existence and the lives of others, constantly being tortured by technology controlling his body with the heat and his emotions with the recorded lives of the staff on the cameras. He poops in toilets that don’t flush, drinks from fountain water he has tainted, and eats the fish in the aquarium with all manner of disgust that comes with the grime of human survival.
I couldn’t help but feel like Dafoe reached a floor with this material and kept scraping as hard as he could against concrete, hoping to unearth something more. But the limitations of this space can be felt soon, and it isn’t long before Dafoe’s many lamentations start to plateau in their uniqueness. The profound nature of man seeking meaning to their existence only proceeds to such a degree before Dafoe is knocking down paintings and finding himself making remarks about how art lasts longer than people. His opening and closing monologue about choosing what to save in a fire and how his choices of a pet, an album, and a sketchbook are interesting up to the point when it becomes clear that people and experiences are more valuable than the tangible, seemingly built to last.
Inside mostly delivers on what it promises. If you’re a big fan of Dafoe and have remarked, "I could watch him trapped in a room for two hours,” this is the film to put that theory to the test. While it’s still a good film, it’s a picture where the last drops are milked dry of this concept to the point where you’re as exhausted as Dafoe, where his hunt for an escape is as daunting as our thirst for greater meaning.