' ' Cinema Romantico: Inception

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception

Ambitious but far, far from flawless, director of the moment Christopher Nolan's latest two hour plus tale, "Inception", desperately yearns to be something grand, an examination of the imagination, a specials effect laden neo noir, and though it falls short it still has many bits and pieces to make you sit up straight and take notice.

Despite all the visual gimmickry and fancy words the core of the story is really quite simple. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), yet another conflicted, tortured protagonist, Nolan's specialty, is a master of extraction, a complicated process whereby he and his trusted associate Arthur (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) enter a person's dreams and "extract" a piece of information. As the movie opens, in a rip roaring sequence, this is what we see them doing. Ah, but then the obligatory billionaire Saito (Ken Watanabe) proposes a radical idea: Inception. Cobb will enter the mind of a rival billionaire's son, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), and attempt to plant an idea. And we're off and running.

Cobb and Arthur assemble a crack team in the form of Eames (Tom Hardy), a chemist named Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and Ariadne (Ellen Page), a most skilled architect, whose job it will be to construct an elaborate maze within the mind of Fischer so Cobb and his team can slip in to plant this necessary idea undetected.

But, of course, lurking beneath all this, as it must, is Cobb's tragic relationship with his deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who almost appears a bit too beautiful to be true, which could literally be the case since it seems we are merely seeing Cobb's own projection of his deceased wife down there somewhere in this dream world. His own agenda threatens to derail the entire operation and only Ariadne senses something is amiss.

In many ways the character of Ariadne works as a synopsis of where "Inception" goes wrong. She turns up early and gets a lecture in the ways of this dream world architecture in a sequence that Nolan clearly spent a great deal of time conjuring up and perfecting except then this whole idea of architectural inception is never really referenced again. For the remainder of the film Ariadne is along for the ride to say specific things out loud so the audience is completely aware of Cobb's plight. This is more than a minor problem. And it's not the only one. In an interview prior to the film's release DiCaprio claimed the filmmakers spent a great deal of time ensuring that all the dreamscapes were very indicative of the person doing the dreaming and while this might be true to a certain degree there are sequences - like firefights on a ski slope - that resemble nothing more than the mind of the person writing the screenplay.

You sense that perhaps Nolan had a desire to try and push this story along solely through the visuals. There is one stunning portion toward the end that goes on for, maybe, 15 minutes where the movie cuts across three different levels of dreams and all of it is done with the bare minimum of dialogue. It is bold. It is breathtaking. It suggests what "Inception" could have been with as much attention paid to the narrative as to the craft. Because only a little while later Nolan resorts to the Voiceover Explains Everything montage that is a staple anymore of all mystery movies. Why'd you have to go there? Damn it, Nolan, you were so close!

The end (don't worry - I'm not giving it away), which will be much discussed between you and your moviegoing companion, is like Christopher Nolan in capsule. It messes with your mind, sure, but it's got no bearing whatsoever on the soul. Man oh man, if this guy could just pull off both.

And that's why you gotta him some credit. He's out here fighting the good fight. I wonder if his aspirations simply outweigh what is possible to achieve. I adored "Batman Begins" and I thought it perfectly welded the intimate with the epic. But "The Dark Knight" and "Inception" present a director and writer with so much to say, so much to show, so many places to go, that his storytelling cannot keep up with his own extreme vision. I cannot decide if this is a good problem.

6 comments:

Castor said...

Excellent review Nicholas and it looks like we are in agreement that this is indeed a very good summer blockbuster but nothing more. This is a movie to be admired like a painting, rather than felt like a beautiful song.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Well said. It frustrates me, though, because I think he has the tools to make it be both. I just hope he can get there in the future.

Simon said...

I thought it was a bit more than just a summer blockbuster. I mean, the experience is tainted when you realize how many half-assed ripoffs are following, but still.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Yeah, it probably is. I think part of the issue is I'm grading it on a curved scale. If it was just some hack who managed to make a medium to decent summer movie I might give it a "rave". But if a movie is really good and falls short - in my opinion - of greatness it makes me sad. Is this fair? Perhaps not. But it's how I roll.

Nick said...

Good review Prigge. I very much agree with most of what you said. Ellen Page's character was by far the most frustrating piece of the film. Why introduce her and this amazing concept of architecture and then never develop the idea???

I wondered at multiple points if the poorly crafted dialogue and worst acting were all a part of film itself... as if Cobb dreams in melodrama. Alas, I think Nolan was just too worried about his special effects to take the time to craft his script.

All that being said: I will be buying IMAX tickets and viewing it again within the month. So maybe ti was a success after all?

Nicholas Prigge said...

Nolan's movies often seem to short-change the female characters. Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Dark Knight" and Scarlett Johannson in "The Prestige" were nothing beyond screenwriting pawns. Maybe he needs to bring a woman in on the script process next time?

By the way, I really like this line: "...as if Cobb dreams in melodrama."