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.