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Roger Ebert on the Films of Christopher Nolan

With Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” releasing in theaters this week, we thought we’d look back at what Roger Ebert wrote about the films of this brilliant filmmaker before his passing. Roger was able to review seven films by Nolan between 2001 and 2012, giving all of them three stars or more. And since Roger’s passing, four more films have been reviewed by Matt Zoller Seitz or Brian Tallerico and awarded the same thumbs up rating. According to this site, Nolan has yet to miss. Below, you’ll find quotes from each of the reviews and links to read more that include information on how to watch these films online.


“The purpose of the movie is not for us to solve the murder of the wife ("I can't remember to forget you," he says of her). If we leave the theater not sure exactly what happened, that's fair enough. The movie is more like a poignant exercise, in which Leonard's residual code of honor pushes him through a fog of amnesia toward what he feels is his moral duty. The movie doesn't supply the usual payoff of a thriller (how can it?), but it's uncanny in evoking a state of mind. Maybe telling it backward is Nolan's way of forcing us to identify with the hero. Hey, we all just got here.”


“Pacino and Williams are very good together. Their scenes work because Pacino's character, in regarding Williams, is forced to look at a mirror of his own self-deception. The two faces are a study in contrasts. Pacino is lined, weary, dark circles under his eyes, his jaw slack with fatigue. Williams has the smooth, open face of a true believer, a man convinced of his own case.”

Batman Begins

“This is at last the Batman movie I've been waiting for. The character resonates more deeply with me than the other comic superheroes, perhaps because when I discovered him as a child, he seemed darker and more grown-up than the cheerful Superman. He has secrets. As Alfred muses: "Strange injuries and a nonexistent social life. These things beg the question, what does Bruce Wayne do with his time?"”

The Prestige

“The pledge of Nolan's "The Prestige" is that the film, having been metaphorically sawed in two, will be restored; it fails when it cheats, as, for example, if the whole woman produced on the stage were not the same one so unfortunately cut in two. Other than that fundamental flaw, which leads to some impenetrable revelations toward the end, it's quite a movie -- atmospheric, obsessive, almost satanic.”

The Dark Knight

““Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.””


“The movies often seem to come from the recycling bin these days: Sequels, remakes, franchises. "Inception" does a difficult thing. It is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does. I thought there was a hole in "Memento:" How does a man with short-term memory loss remember he has short-term memory loss? Maybe there's a hole in "Inception" too, but I can't find it. Christopher Nolan reinvented "Batman." This time he isn't reinventing anything. Yet few directors will attempt to recycle "Inception." I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map.”

The Dark Knight Rises

“"The Dark Knight Rises" leaves the fanciful early days of the superhero genre far behind, and moves into a doom-shrouded, apocalyptic future that seems uncomfortably close to today's headlines. As urban terrorism and class warfare envelop Gotham and its infrastructure is ripped apart, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) emerges reluctantly from years of seclusion in Wayne Manor and faces a soulless villain as powerful as he is. The film begins slowly with a murky plot and too many new characters, but builds to a sensational climax.”

Note: The following reviews are not by Roger Ebert.


“The film's widescreen panoramas feature harsh interplanetary landscapes, shot in cruel Earth locales; some of the largest and most detailed starship miniatures ever built, and space sequences presented in scientifically accurate silence, a la "2001." But for all its high-tech glitz, "Interstellar" has a defiantly old-movie feeling. It's not afraid to switch, even lurch, between modes. At times, the movie's one-stop-shopping storytelling evokes the tough-tender spirit of a John Ford picture, or a Steven Spielberg film made in the spirit of a Ford picture: a movie that would rather try to be eight or nine things than just one.”


“If somebody were to ask me if I liked this film, I would tell them no. I loathed parts of it and found other parts repetitious or half-baked. But, maybe paradoxically, I admired it throughout, and have been thinking about it constantly since I saw it. Even the aspects of "Dunkirk" that didn't sit right with me are all of a piece. This is a movie of vision and integrity made on an epic scale, a series of propositions dramatized with machines, bodies, seawater and fire. It deserves to be seen and argued about. They don't make them like this anymore. Never did, really.”


“Viewer response to “Tenet” will come down to how much one engages with that momentum. I expect a surprising number of people will open the door and jump out of this moving race car (look, another palindrome!) before it crosses the finish line, exhausted by a story that doesn’t make sense even as it’s trying to explain itself to you. Others will embrace the filmmaking's energy, which starts with intensity and doesn’t let up much at all. The word I kept thinking of was one I used earlier in this review: “aggressive”—that may sound like high praise to Nolan fans looking for something other than a lazy, predictable blockbuster and harsh criticism to those who aren’t looking to be left weary by a self-serious sci-fi epic. In the spirit of a film about objects moving opposite ways in time in the same space, maybe both groups are right.”


"This review hasn't really delved much into the plot of the film or the real-world history that inspired it, not because it isn't important (of course it is) but because—as is always the case with Nolan—the main attraction is not the story, itself but how the filmmaker tells it. Nolan has been derided as less a dramatist than half showman, half mathematician, making bombastic, overcomplicated, but ultimately muddled and simplistic blockbusters that are as much puzzles as stories. But whether that characterization was ever entirely true (and I'm increasingly convinced that it never was) it seems beside the point when you see how thoughtfully and rewardingly it's been applied to a biography of a real person. It seems possible that "Oppenheimer" could retrospectively seem like a turning point in the director's filmography, when he takes all of the stylistic and technical practices that he'd been honing for the previous twenty years in intellectualized pulp blockbusters and turns them inward, using them to explore the innermost recesses of the mind and heart, not just to move human pieces around on a series of interlinked, multi-dimensional storytelling boards."

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