UPDATE: There are elements of the discussion in the comments section of this entry that may qualify as spoilers.
Christopher Nolan's Inception may be one of the best movies I found massively disappointing. Is it fun? Definitely. Is it inventive? It sure is. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. Is it the mind-blowing masterpiece that many critics and audience members are calling it? Not even close.
For a movie where people seem desperate to avoid any sort of spoilers, this is a doggedly linear film with very few—if any—twists (a la Memento or The Prestige). It's being touted as another puzzle or maze film (much like Memento), which I actually find misleading and inaccurate. For a movie that takes place in dreams within dreams within dreams, it's pretty damn straightforward.
Also, for a film dealing with going into the realm of dreams and the subconscious, it's pretty mundane. I kept thinking, "This isn't a dream landscape, this is the set of a James Bond film showdown," or, "The inner recesses of one's mind looks a great deal like downtown Chicago." And when you consider there are so many (better) films out there that deal with the realm of dreams and the subconscious—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mulholland Dr., Synecdoche, New York, even popcorn entertainments like The Matrix and Total Recall—I couldn't help but think that Inception's take on dream logic was strangely lacking.
But enough slapping Inception around. I don't want you to get the impression that I didn't enjoy this movie (I did) or that I don't recommend it (I do).
(I should also point out that Memento and The Dark Knight are two of my favorite films to come out in the past decade, so I will admit that my expectations for this film was pretty damn high.)
So let's talk about what Nolan & Co. get right with this movie (which is a great deal).
Without giving too much away, Inception is about a team of corporate thieves led by Leonardo DiCaprio that specializes in stealing ideas by infiltrating their dreams. Don't worry about how this works: the bulk of the first act is spent explaining the rules of this job and world. After a quasi-botched job, they're approached by a mysterious corporate bigwig played by Ken Watanabe who wants to hire them not to make an "extraction," (their term for stealing ideas), but an "Inception." In other words, he wants them to implant an idea in a competitor's mind and make him think it's his original thought.
DiCaprio's partner, a surprisingly dapper and badass Joseph Gordon-Levitt, says it's impossible, since the mind can always trace the origin of an idea, but DiCaprio begs to differ. We in the audience do, too; not for the same (deliberately untold) reasons DiCaprio knows, but just from simple common sense. (Studies have shown that the mind actually is notoriously bad at tracing the origin of ideas—but I guess never mind that.)
At first DiCaprio & Co. refuse due to the excessive risk and difficulty, but Watanabe makes DiCaprio an offer he can't refuse. I won't reveal what it is, but it has to do with Leo's deliberately elusive and troubled back-story. Then we get into the "getting the team together to organize the heist" portion of the movie, which is actually quite fun. This is where we meet Ellen Page, who's brought in to serve as the architect for the dream world they're creating for their target (Cillian Murphy).
The story is actually very fun and engaging. It's also one of the few movies where I didn't mind that it stopped for 45 minutes to simply explain the rules of this world to
Page us. (This is, after all, how most heist films are done; after getting the team together, the team then plans out the heist in semi-meticulous fashion, a la Rififi). And, at two hours and 45 minutes, it flies by.
And my previous complaints about the mundane look and feel of the dreamscapes aside, the effects are quite nice and not aggressively in your face. The effects serve the story, not the other way around, and the action sequences are clear and coherent (although again, this may be a detriment for a movie like this). They also range from the spectacular (the anti-gravity fight in the hotel lobby; the opening sequence) to the disappointingly mundane (the previously-mentioned James Bon-esque setting).
The acting, as is the case with the acting in almost all of Nolan's films, is top-shelf. DiCaprio is breaking out of his pretty-boy routine and looks quite well, and looks downright haggard and downtrodden in this. (He actually also looks a bit pudgy and bulky in this movie, which works in his favor, oddly enough: it adds some metaphorical weight to his screen presence as well.)
As for the rest of the cast, Page works well as the audience's surrogate. Michael Caine obviously makes a nice cameo here, and is also obviously engaging. Again, I was really surprised and impressed with how...there's no other hyphenated word for it...kick-ass Gordon-Levitt is in this as well (though having seen and liked Brick, I really shouldn't have been so surprised). Watanabe and Murphy are also solid and spot-on, as are Tom Berenger, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao and Marion Cotillard.
Inception is ultimately a very fun and inventive heist film. Just don't go in expecting something more than that.
Still quite impressed with Gordon-Levitt's badassery,
James "Nolan + Cast of 10 Things I Hate About You = Acting Magic" Comtois