Originally Reviewed – 7/25/2010
It’s been widely established that Christopher Nolan is a bit of a visionary when it comes to filmmaking. While not quite on the level of Spielberg and Lucas, with films like Momento, Insomnia and 2008’s The Dark Knight, Nolan has proven himself as a director who can satisfy audiences and critics alike. So, in this summer’s wildly hyped and promoted Inception, Nolan has finally made the film he’s always wanted to make, mixing his love for complex storylines and tragically flawed anti-heroes in a film he clearly hopes blows audiences away. The result’ A damn good try that does a lot of little things right but ultimately feels too overcooked for its own good.
Starring Leonardo DeCaprio, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, Inception is the story of a team of dream crashers who, after a job gone awry, is given the chance of a lifetime; rather than sneaking around a subjects dream with the intent of extracting secrets, they are tasked with injecting an idea in. The result is wild race against time, mental projections and all sorts of psudeo-science hoopla that provides some decent thrills, a fascinating premise and a story that barely ties together despite the sheer amount of material presented. There is a lot to absorb in Inception and while Nolan does a very good job of keeping the film moving and the audience engaged, he makes some sacrifices in storytelling along the way. Sure, if he hadn’t we would still be sitting there watching it, but the result is a film that has everything that was advertised, just in limited amounts, creating an entertaining but slightly thin experience.
As one could tell from a quick glance at the trailers, most of the emotional heavy lifting is on the shoulders of Leonardo DeCaprio as the team’s lead dream sneaker. While I’m still not sold on DeCaprio’s acting chops, he does a more than adequate job portraying Nolan’s signature emotionally wrought anti-hero. While there are moments where DeCaprio just doesn’t hit the emotional depths required to keep the character engaging, his best scenes are when he’s paired with the always excellent Mario Cotillard as his love interest. At its core, Inception is a cyber sleuth love story and while Leo simply can’t hang with Cotillard on an acting level, Nolan does a great job of developing their relationship, in turn developing their characters.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is just there for the room tumbling ride. While there are some notable performances by Tom Hardy as the team’s wisecracking ‘Forger’, Dileep Rao as the ‘chemist’ of the team and Cillian Murphy as the exec who’s the recipient of the implanted idea, the rest of the cast just hangs there, underdeveloped and underused. The worst offender is Ken Watanbe as the mumbling taskmaster who put DeCaprio and team up to the whole thing, who, with the exception of bookending the film, provided nothing to the story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also does a fine if forgettable job as Leo’s number two man. To me, aside from the wonderful Marion Cotillard, the best character in the film is the spinning token carried by DeCaprio to remind himself he’s in the real world. Let’s just say that the most gripping point of the film involves that inanimate object, a feat that Nolan deserves full credit for and should not be missed.
But you may be saying to yourself, this is a summer action movie! Acting be damned, how’s all that city bending, Matrix style float fighting I’ve been seeing in trailers’ Well, action buffs will get a Tale of Two Cities in Inception; it is the best of times when Ellen Page is warping dream worlds and it’s the worst of times when the film devolves to a rejected James Bond movie in the snow blanketed third act. As a matter of fact, the middle bit of Inception is probably some of the strongest stuff you’ll see all summer, with mind bending feats of wall jumping, gravity defiance and hand to hand combat that sets up a huge let down in the third act. By the time the team gets to the snow drenched mountains of the third part, the action becomes rote, stale and frankly boring. Viewers who are expecting a high velocity action flick get some of what’s promised but not quite what the trailers suggest.
On a side note, many fans and critics have been hailing Inception as this decade’s Matrix and in my opinion it falls short in that comparison. While the stories have some ties of alternate realities and dream worlds, Inception does not emotionally connect in the way the Matrix did and as a result, is an inferior experience. The reason is simple. In the Matrix, the joy of the film was the discovery of this mind blowing ‘real world’ alongside an instantly identifiable main character. No matter what your lot in life is, everyone has felt like ‘Mr. Anderson’ at some point and the thrill of learning about the world of machines with Keanu Reeves made that film the classic it is today. In Inception, DeCaprio and company are old pros, so there is no excitement in the discovery of this new world. Instead of learning alongside an amazed Keanu Reeves, we get lectured along with Ellen Page, who is written as that audience link but fails pretty miserably in that task. Where Reeves spends a whole movie just learning about this new world, it feels like Page has it down pat in exactly five minutes. That, combined with a surprisingly bland performance, is what knocks Inception from excellent down to merely good.
In reviewing my review, it sounds like I’m being overly harsh, when in the end, I had a very good time watching Inception. The problem is that it really could have been so much more. While I rarely make an argument for films to be longer, I truly believe that the intriguing central idea of Inception would have been better served as two movies instead of one; one movie to set up the world and the characters and the second to get into the meat of the action. That way, we could have discovered the dream space of Inception naturally instead of getting it force fed to us in the opening half hour. All that being said, Inception is still the most interesting and thought provoking film you will see in wide release this summer and more than worth a watch, especially in the theater with a good crowd. Director Christopher Nolan has created an dream-centric love story full of spinning hallways, arresting visuals and an eye opening view of the world we inhabit when our eyes are closed. Despite it being a touch watered down, Inception is still pretty close to a must see this summer if only so you can discuss it with likeminded people. Besides, it’s either this or Last Airbender and a choice like that isn’t really a choice at all.
Score – 80%