Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

3.5 out of 5 Records

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan

Maybe it’s just that I’m a little turned off by the ubiquitous praise for Inception that I can’t seem to escape on Facebook, or Twitter, or IMDb, or any other Interwebs hang-outs. Maybe it’s just that eighteen year old kid in me that’s still repulsed by the notion of conformity, who believes strongly in something called the “cromo effect”, which you may know better as "hoping on the bandwagon". But despite the fact that I enjoyed this movie to an extent, I can’t resist the desire to meticulously break out all the things wrong with it. On one level, Inception was a great movie; as a film, it was only good at best.

The movie plays out like this (no spoilers here, although clearly if you haven't seen the greatest movie of the twenty-first century, you're already a loser): After a brief prelude that serves as an introduction to some basic principles of infiltrating dreams and stealing from the subconscious, Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is approached by wealthy businessman Saito (Watanabe) with a proposal to wipe Cobb’s criminal record clean in exchange for “inception”, the extraordinarily difficult act of invoking an original idea in someone’s mind through a dream. Cobb and his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) embark on a mission to convene an elite team, a clich├ęd premise more reminiscent of a Michael Bay film (and yes, that team will include a reliable sidekick, a cool-handed rogue, and a doey-eyed newbie just learning the ropes, who, believe it or not, will overcome obstacles to inevitably become instrumental to the team's success!). The difference is that Cobb has been set with the challenge of implanting an idea into a subject’s subconscious, not a nuclear warhead into an apocalyptic asteroid, so the nonsensical filler characteristic of Bay’s movies is replaced with fictional dream science and strategizing that is always fascinating (the notion of dreams within dreams, the layering of time lapse as one delves deeper into a dream state), though only sometimes compelling. The film progresses at an incredible pace in order to brush the audience up on everything they’ll need to know to understand the film’s hour-long climax, and that doesn’t just mean all the technical jargon but also Cobb’s dark past, neither of which end up doing us a whole ton of good on the wayward journey to the an ultimately unconvincing conclusion.

As far as storyline is concerned, Inception often makes as little sense as the Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if anyone tells you that they understood entirely what was going on the first time around, they’re lying. I guess the difference for me was that with the latter film I didn’t feel duped as much as I did curious and excited because I knew there were more layers, a deeper meaning, and it was only a matter of uncovering them with thought and more viewings. But with Inception, the message was pretty clear from early on. I got them when I was 13 years old when I saw The Matrix, which ultimately set out to do the same thing as Inception, but did a better job of it.  Inception's storyline, however, the mechanism for getting that message across, just inevitably becomes illogical and unbelievable, even within its own context, to the point where it feels like it's being made up as it goes along. Nolan fails to untie all the knots. And I think maybe people are afraid to admit the same for fear that they’ll be accused of “not getting it”.

In many ways, to make an analogy, Inception reminds me a lot of the iPhone 4. For the most part, it’s wonderful. I mean I am giving this movie 3.5 out of 5 on an arbitrary scale, which is pretty good. But it’s certainly not without some major flaws. Nolan and Steve Jobs in the last month have teamed up to amend your grumpy uncle’s favorite mantra to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, well…just run with it, and hopefully people will forget when they see Joseph Gordon-Levitt fighting bad guys in a hotel room with the physics of a Tilt-O-Whirl,” which is, admittedly, one of the cooler action sequences I can remember seeing, ever. Still, at times Nolan seems to ask us to simply accept certain points of the storyline that make little sense, to just trust him that it works and move on. And if we decide to challenge him then clearly we’re thinking about it wrong, and maybe we should, “just avoid holding it that way.”

Maybe this movie would be better if it had any kind of character development to fall back on whatsoever, but it doesn’t. Aside from Cobb, we don’t really get to the inner workings of any of these characters, other than maybe Saito to a minor extent. I was particularly disappointed that the character of Arthur was left so incredibly one-dimensional. Nary a word about his background, his relationship with Cobb, what makes him tick, is given even a glimmer, which also makes later hints of a romance brewing between himself and Ariadne (Page) more regrettable than charming. On the heel’s of The Dark Knight, whose entire cast of characters lived and breathed the film’s themes in one way or another, failing to create characters we really cared about was a bit of a let down from Nolan.

A bit of this review is just playing Devil’s Advocate in the face of the aforementioned Kool-Aid party that has been Inception’s reception.  However, as much as I want to call out the Emperor for not having any clothes, I do think that there is something to this movie. It was probably the best movie I’ll see this summer, after Toy Story 3. Cobb’s memories, sense of loss, and obsession with his regrets, it took me places that I wasn’t really expecting to go, places that frankly I might not have wanted to go, but the skill of which is required to do so I have great admiration for. It was wildy-entertaining, brilliantly imaginative, and had a commanding score. But I guess so did the trailer for Tron: Legacy. Though at times Inception held me captive and had me losing all sense of time and my surroundings, at some point, like happens sometimes when you’re dreaming, I realized that it was nothing more than a mirage. And that’s when the dream began to crumble.