Monday, August 02, 2010

Monday Movie Review: Inception

Inception (2010) 7/10
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a team of dream extractors, who use cutting edge medical technology to manipulate shared dreams. The team is hired to attempt "inception"—creating, rather than extracting, an idea. But Cobb is haunted in dreams by the presence of his late wife (Marion Cotillard), endangering the team. Written & directed by Christopher Nolan.

There is no question that Inception is a would-have-could-have-should-have movie. It screams from unrealized potential. At the same time, it's smart, beautiful, and enjoyable. Arthur and I have been talking about it for a week, and that's a lot of engagement for one movie.

What Inception does right is commit fully to its concept. Yes, it's exposition-heavy, but it grips its dream reality with two hands and doesn't let go. This is a smart, well-made movie by a master of movie logistics. It doesn't falter in its delivery of Chris Nolan's theme, the theme of all of his films: A haunted man struggling with the unreality of a life transfixed by grief. Whether that haunted man is struggling with memory loss or insomnia, whether he's Batman or a magician, Nolan's motif is pretty clear, if not always successful.
There are some very clever moments in delivering the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, left to improvise in a Things Go Wrong scene, comes up with some very creative stuff, and it's a pleasure to watch.

Inception has a great cast, although I have to say that Ellen Page as Ariadne seems like she's in a different movie from the DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Deelap Rao, et al. It also has one bravura scene; Ariadne learning how to explore, construct, and manipulate dreams. It's a visual masterpiece, and if the rest of the movie had that sense of creative excitement, there would be "10/10" at the top of this post.

Ariadne is a lot of what's wrong with this film. Not that I dislike the actor (I don't), but she's a non-character with no personality of her own. She exists solely to ask obvious questions, and here, Nolan's distrust of the audience is an irritant. It's not enough to depict grief, we need Ariadne there to say "That's grief you're experiencing!" And this happens not once or three times, but often.

I had certainly heard, before I saw the movie, that Inception was heavy on exposition. I don't mind all the explaining of their pseudo-technology (I cut my teeth on Star Trek, after all), but the exposition about every thought and feeling was simply heavy-handed. Dreams, after all, are mysterious, but there are no mysteries in Inception until the final one. Audiences groan aloud at the ending (which I am not giving away); in my theater, there was definitely a loud groan/gasp; it was hard to tell by the sound whether it was a positive or negative reaction. Perhaps the reason there is such intense reaction to the ending is that nothing in the preceding film led one to expect it. Oh, sure, we expected a plot element to twist at the end, but the film was simply not mysterious. It was not (for the most part) dream-like. It handled its plot exposition in a way that made dreams just one more bank or casino to break into and out of. It's a heist movie.

And I do like heist movies, I like heist crews, I like heist plotting. It had an old-fashioned feel that way. But in truth, there were about 10 minutes of truly twisty, dream-logic visuals, and almost all of them were in the previews. The rest of the movie could have easily been Ocean's 14.

(Cross-posted. Or is it?)