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'Inside' review: Willem Dafoe is trapped in a monotonous drama

Courtesy of Focus Features


“Cast Away,” “I Am Legend,” and “Locke” are just a few thrillers where its lead actor had to carry most, if not all, of the movie solo. If done well and paced accordingly, it can create a visceral, one-of-a-kind experience (even Ryan Reynolds in “Buried” was solid), but in the case of “Inside,” starring an exceptional Willem Dafoe, when the material and actor aren’t quite in sync, it becomes an exercise in endurance. One where its themes and ideas get lost in translation as Dafoe is holed up inside a lavish New York City penthouse filled with sophisticated pieces of art, a broken thermostat, and exotic fishes. 

Kudos to production designer Thorsten Sabel for adequately filling the frames and giving Dafoe something to work with, yet first time director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins don’t have to much to say (or do) other than watch its lead star shit in a corner and concoct a high rise escape while talking to pigeons outside. Dafoe plays Nemo (which I don’t think is a nod to his voice work on the Pixar animated film), a high-end art thief who ends up trapped after mistakenly setting off a series of alarms within the walls of his wealthy target. Nobody knows he’s in there, save for his crew who jump ship as soon as stuff hits the fan, and things suddenly become feast or famine. 

Indeed, Nemo scavenges for whatever supplies are available, becoming resourceful in moments of desperation (like figuring out how to make pasta without boiling water or licking off the condensation in the freezer). This becomes the routine and “Inside” keeps repeating these sequences that’ll quickly test the patience of those eager for anything to happen. In “Cast Away” or “I Am Legend,” some hope existed that the main characters might find salvation, but Nemo’s situation offers minimal in that department. In between the mundane plotting, you’re left to ponder some obvious discrepancies, like how come this wealthy bachelor pad owner doesn’t have a security detail ready to investigate the barrage of alarms that just went off? And who is feeding the fish? 

The way “Inside” plays with the temperature gauge is somewhat fascinating and an obvious metaphor about how quickly art can imitate life. In one scene, Nemo is sweating bullets, but the next, he’s shivering. It’s interesting, in these episodes, the levels Dafoe brings (sometimes talking in slow, methodical narrations about how “art is meant to be kept.”) but just as “Inside” might be on the cusp of something more nuanced (a flashback sequence helps break up the somber mood), it falls right back in line with Dafoe stumbling his way through the apartment until a final shot suggests an optimistic endgame. I’m glad Dafoe was given the vehicle to space out and run wild, but he can’t hide the fact “Inside” is a movie that’s trapped within itself. 

Grade: C- 

INSIDE opens in theaters Friday March 17th. 


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