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"Inception" Review

In the middle of a dull summer where most everything seems to be a sequel or an adaptation of a videogame or comic book (or combination of all of the above), how does an ambitious original movie like Inception get made for a reported $200 million budget? Easy; writer-director Christopher Nolan's last movie was The Dark Knight and it made a metric ton of money and in exchange for securing his services for the hat trick of Batman films (that began with Batman Begins, or as I call it, Batdude Starts) Warner Bros. gave him a check to follow his bliss. Whereas Peter Jackson squandered his post-Lord of the Rings indulgence with the bloated King Kong remake (in which he thought what was missing from the original was Naomi Watts poor show biz fortunes and the reading list of sailors), Nolan serves up a complex, detailed creation that is very easy to admire, but somewhat hard to love.

Since the ads are very oblique as to what it's actually about, here's a spoiler-free thumbnail: Thanks to a device that combines the tech of Strange Days and The Matrix people are able to share dreams. Leonardo Di Caprio has mastered this tech to become a highly-paid corporate espionage agent, breaking into the minds of client's competitors and stealing their secrets. Unable to return home to his family due to slowly-revealed reasons, he takes the proverbial One Last Big Score job for an exec who doesn't want an secret stolen, but an idea planted (the titular "inception") in the mind of a competitor. In return, all of Leo's problems are promised to go away. What could go wrong? Well, plenty.

As the caper piles dreamstate upon dreamstate - by the end we're coping with FIVE levels of existence (note that I didn't say reality) - Nolan relentlessly drives the story along to the point that it becomes too much. If you thought the last half-hour of The Dark Knight (i.e. the ferry boat scene) was more than was needed, then you'll feel the same by the time the last fifth of Inception unspools. We only need our minds blown so much before it starts making our heads hurt and at the end, the logic that glued together the previous 80% doesn't seem to be applying. At no time does it get very confusing - efficient editing reminds us as to what's happening on all the playing fields - but the last step is a bit of a doozy.

I've found Leo's recent work to be a bit "screw-faced" and mannered - thinking Shutter Island and The Departed - but he's very good here as a man who's made his own dream Heaven into an endless Hell. The rest of the cast is solid and it's nice to see Ellen Page playing an actual young woman in what's otherwise a total sausage fest. And while she doesn't look like this in the movie...

...Marion Cotillard is real purdy as Leo's wife. There's something simply lovely about her.

If there's a real impediment to latching on fully emotionally with Inception it's because there is so much plot to cover we're thrown in fast and never given much respite to reflect on what's happening and what it means. Other than new girl/audience-surrogate Page to show us the ropes and rules of the dreamcatching game, there is little room for levity and I can recall only one out-loud laugh in nearly 2-1/2 hours; not that it's a comedy or needs to be played lightly, but I can think of a few spots where a bon mot calling out the absurdity of what's happening would've been appropriate. The special effects are seamless and it's notable that no matter how crazy the dream situations get, the dream worlds never look anything less than naturalistic and real. No Van Gogh skies or Dali landscapes here; just freight trains running down streets and Paris folding upon itself.

It seems mean to fault a film for being too ambitious, but it's not fair to give bonus points for effort when it doesn't completely pay off. As brilliant as 85% of The Dark Knight was, the last half-hour was too much and by the time we hit the "basement" of Inception, I was thinking that I was about to be offered a wafer-thin mint at any time now. I'll be buying the Blu-ray for sure and it'll be fun to see how the Internet slices and dices their theories about what it all meant, but don't be too caught up on the nerd hosannas. Inception is an very, very good film stuffed with interesting moving parts. It just doesn't run as smoothly as it could.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch a matinee.

UPDATE: Some interesting theories about What It All Means can be found here and here and here. Don't read them until AFTER you see the movie!


Inception 2010 said...

First, it was really such a long movie! A dream inside a dream, I tried to follow but I just couldn't. Psychological but not that deep. Some holes in the script, facts that are not clear, really too surreal for me. Sorry, but I didn't like it all.

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