Christopher Nolan has often cited such visionary genre cinema titles like Blade Runner and Heat as being key inspirations for the first two films in his Dark Knight trilogy. He’s even gone as far as to allude to Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities as the model for the anti-capitalist, lower class revolt in ‘Rises’, while the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Battle of Algiers have served as visual and thematic jumping off points for Interstellar and Dunkirk, respectively.
But looking back through many of his past titles and his choice of supporting players, it’s clear that Nolan – the architect of classy, cerebral mainstream cinema – also had a lot of love for the eighties, a decade which was obviously a formative influence on him. Even stretching back to his second feature, the Guy Pearce-starring head-twisting Memento, and who sits third-billed in the cast list, but none other than The Goonies and Midnight Run’s weasel-like, dependable character actor, Joe ‘Joey Pants’ Pantoliano. His follow-up Insomnia may have starred seventies acting legend Al Pacino, but his nemesis in the film was Robin Williams – an actor who truly flourished in the 1980’s, seeing in that decade as a TV superstar in Mork & Mindy, before churning out the likes of Popeye and the Harold Ramis-directed comedy ensemble Club Paradise.
Going down the list of Nolan’s films and a pattern emerges. While the appearances of eighties mainstays Rutger Hauer and Matthew Modine in the Batman movies might be explained away by Nolan’s love of Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, the straight-to-video, B-movie king Eric Robert’s brief role in The Dark Knight was surely the result of the director stumbling across the blistering 1885 action adventure Runaway Train, in which Roberts stars alongside Jon Voight as two escaped convicts stuck on a runaway train as it hurtles through a hazardous snowstorm. Either that, or maybe he was enamoured by Roberts’ turn in 1989’s martial arts extravaganza cheesefest, Best of the Best?
Even 2006’s The Prestige featured one David Bowie in the brief but memorable role of famed scientist Nikola Tesla. Is this Nolan acknowledging the influence that Labyrinth had over his younger self? Elsewhere – and this might be the most telling of all in terms of where Nolan’s heart is – long AWOL leading man and eighties tough guys Tom Berenger crops up in Inception. One look at Mr Berenger’s recent resume on IMDb hardly screams ‘in demand’ – his last high-profile role before Inception looks to have been in 1994’s Major League II – yet there he is in arguably Nolan’s greatest film thus far, sharing scenes with some of the most respected younger actors of this generation – Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy.
Nolan needs to step forward and admit that his love for Blade Runner et al. was just a cover to flash his movie credentials, and that is was really those lowbrow efforts from the eighties that helped carry him to those lofty heights on the Hollywood directorial A-list.