DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Inception

Sunday 18 July 2010


Inception (2010) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy


By Alan Bacchus

In the body of work of Christopher Nolan, if we call the trio of Memento, The Prestige and now Inception, a ‘puzzle trilogy’ of sorts, Inception is the biggest and most ambitious of the bunch – a retooling of Philip K. Dick’s alternate reality stories (ie. The Matrix/Dark City/Total Recall) realm of virtual reality sci-fi. It’s a very big film, too big for it’s own good perhaps, a jenga tower of high concept ideas and sci-fi scenarios which miraculously manages to hold itself together but not without severe strain on its joints.

At times it’s audacious, thrilling and visually inventive and at many other times, tedious plot driven exercise in style which can barely keep up with its own inventions. Sadly it’s Nolan’s weakest film.

Leonardo Di Caprio plays Cobb the leader of a group of near future thieves of sorts who enters people’s dream to extract valuable information to use for nefarious purposes. After their latest job goes wrong Cobb finds himself working for the same Japanese businessman, Saito, he was stealing from in a new and more dangerous game of corporate espionage. Cobb’s mission, should he chose to accept it (oops wrong movie), is to enter the mind of the son of a corporate CEO to implant the idea of dissolving his company thus allowing Saito to take over the market. And.. breathe.

The first hour of Inception is mostly agonizing, watching the fine actors struggle to get through the dense informational dialogue establishing the rules of Nolan’s near future fantasy world. Virtually every word out of the actors' mouths explains either the rules of dream travel or the details of the intending heist. Long-winded pronunciations among the characters are read out with breathless pace in order to the keeping the running time down and to quicker get into the meat and potatoes of the film. And with so much information, there is absolutely no room for character or any relationships between the characters.

Cobb is the only one with any emotional through line, unfortunately Di Caprio is handed down yet another tortured soul character, a widower whose wife committed suicide, a death blamed on him and thus unable to return to his country and be with his kids, it’s dull depressing stuff - the latest in a decade long series of ultra heavy unhumourous roles for Di Caprio.

Despite the strenuous exposition, Nolan’s due diligence has a purpose and it’s all groundwork laid down so we can understand the last hour and a half. The plan of attack Cobb’s crack of team of dreamscapers come up with is rendered logical. Though with every new rule or concept we learn about dreamworld threatens to topple down Nolan’s precarious house of cards.

Though it’s not a traditional action film Nolan crafts a number of action sequences to keep the fire burning under the asses of us the audience and the characters. Unfortunately the chases and gunfire feel more a perfunctory humdrum exercises, action filmmaking 101 with little flare or ingenuity we expect from such an ambitious film. The opening sequence is so poorly shot we have no idea what is going on, and the final snow base sequence comes so out of left field, it feels like we’re plopped into ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Where Eagles Dare’, or ‘G.I. Joe’.

Where Inception succeeds best is in the execution of the last hour which plays out like a traditional movie heist movie. The choosing of the individual men and women of expertise, the forger, the chemist, the architect set up a triple decker dream within a dream sequence, which Nolan miraculously makes sense out of.

The main set piece action scene taking place in three spheres of reality all occurring at the same moment is truly heartpounding and the stuff of inspiration. The denouement is classic Nolan, the rhythm of editing, music and the obtuse open-ended question mark we’re left with has the same cinematic cadence as the endings of Memento and The Prestige. It doesn’t work as well as those other movies, because, well, it’s the third time round.

I think we can consider Nolan tapped out of this genre, at least for now. Otherwise the repetition would start to stink like Brian DePalma self-thievery. And so, despite much of the praise from audiences and critics, Inception is thrilling but highly flawed, sloppy, but ambitious enough to command my attention, two, three and likely many more times over.


jim said...

I am definitely going to be seeing this movie ASAP! Dark Night and Memento were such intriguing thrillers; they gave me high expectations for this movie. From what I've been reading, it looks like it is going to live up to my expectations. Can't wait to see what Christopher Nolan has done in this film!

Anonymous said...

Right about the opening long windedness, but it is necessary. Remember the diagrams in Back to the Future III. Didn't get it until I got home, but the top in the final scene is still spinning. Like the Matrix, the exposition and concept were better than some of the action.

Lisa said...

This movie was one of the best I’ve seen in awhile. People being manipulated in their dreams..hmmm Good Concept :)

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kyjlm2 said...

I agree with you all the way, Alan.

I did not enjoy Inception... overall. Don't get me wrong: yes it was good looking, and yes the acting was good, but the story was lame. It had been done before: Dreamscape, The Cell, and The Matrix and some other one's I can't remember quite yet (i was thinking all this during the movie). This style of move falls short really fast, the "let me show you a fantastical world and give you one ounce of story and use Special FX." You will be lost about the first hour of the movie. I was warned prior to seeing this: DO NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM! (Thankfully, I didn't! :D )

I brought up Dreamscape and The Cell for a specific reason. They are basically the same movie concept. Dreamscape you can enter in someone's dream and influence their real world self however you choose, including killing them. The Cell inducing someone into your own mind influencing your dreams on them etc etc. Also The Matrix, you can bend some rules like gravity, running fast, kung-fu, but don't think about bullet dodging and flying no one can do that...EXCEPT the Deus Ex Machina, he can bend, break and redefine these rules at his will.

One of the characters in the movie says, "If your going to dream, dream big" which was one of two times a character willfully did something "dream-like" to their advantage (the other one was the paradox scene). I think Nolan tried to explain this but I think didn't do so well...you're in a dream, DREAM BIGGER, don't just pull out a bigger gun frickin' nuke that summamabitch sniper.

The ending of Inception: all at once the entire audience groaned out loud.

I believe we will be in the minority, but I'm totally prepared for that. I criticize for reason.

Ofelia Legaspi said...

I agree with your view of Inception having paper-thin characterization, soporific plot and expositional misstep.

Shedding some Eternal Sunshine on concept-driven Inception

watch movies said...

Inception was brilliant. As usual, DiCaprio hits another home run. Can this guy pick scripts, or can't he!!?? wow.