Saturday, June 11, 2011

INCEPTION


Christopher Nolan, 2010
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao

A few months ago when I witnessed Inception's quick, but exciting teaser trailer and hoped for the best. Boy, was I wrong.

Despite being labelled as a sci-fi film, Inception is pretty much a standard heist film that takes place mostly in dreams. Throw in some emotional torment, a smattering of love story, and presto-chango: Inception. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has been forced away from his family and his country because of the unfortunate death of his wife (Marion Cotillard) and his illegal career. He is essentially a thief and intelligence agent who steals information from people in their dreams. He stumbles across an almost impossibly risky job that will allow him to finally return home. The job requires inception, or planting a foreign idea in someone's mind. Accompanied by his new employer (Ken Watanabe) and an expert team, he sets out to undertake the most dangerous mission of his career. What his team doesn't know is that his past trauma may intervene and cause fatal damage for them all.

When I walked out of the film I didn't hate Inception. I certainly didn't like it, but I also wasn't rolling around on the ground, frothing at the mouth in rage. Now that I've read some glowing reviews and heard how much some of my friends and family like it, I'm leaning towards hate, or at least disgust. It's not a good film, though it is from Hollywood, so I don't know what I expected. It's derivative, humorless, poorly written and falls way below its enormously high potential.

Though it is a heist film, it has none of the pizzazz or peril of greats like The Italian Job (1969), The Killing, or anything directed by Melville. There is a hint of traumatic love story, but if that's what you want, you'd be better off watching The English Patient or one of the many versions of Wuthering Heights. Remarkably enough, DiCaprio's character from Shutter Island seems to have stumbled into Inception, much to my dismay. And in typical Christopher Nolan fashion, he attempts to slide a ridiculous twist in at the end. Twist endings are always bullshit. It's a sloppy way for a subpar writer to add dramatic value to the end of a film and make you forget how crappy the second act of the screenplay really is.

The dreamworld, while beautiful, is incredibly disappointing. Rather than allowing the visual world stand out as a character of its own, it is simply used as a plot device. In the beginning of the film, Nolan stretches the film's visual legs with pleasing results. By the time the heist is underway, it is only used to stage stupid Matrix-like fight scenes and to double up on action, superficially making the film seem complicated. Anyone who thinks it requires multiple viewings needs a good kick in the shins. It lacks the darkness and menace of Alex Proyas' Dark City or the magical whimsy of Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This probably would have been an amazing film if it had a competent screenwriter, was directed by Tarkovsky, and Leonardo DiCaprio got his screen time cut by about 25%.

There are a few things I enjoyed, namely the cast and the visual effects. The effects are classy and well-executed and Nolan seems to rely as much as he can on real effects, rather than dumping everything into the wasteland of CGI. The cast is as entertaining as they could possibly be with such a lackluster script, particularly Cillian Murphy (Breakfast on Pluto) and Tom Hardy, who was actually one of my favorite things about Inception, is a comical bright spot in an otherwise humorless film. Another lesser seen, but still up and coming actor, he was recently in Bronson and, though you may not recognize him, he was Shinzon (Picard's adorable and evil Reman clone) in Star Trek Nemesis. Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose) is lovely, sad, and enigmatic as Cobb's dead wife, though, like Michael Caine, she is largely wasted by the script. And finally, the real reason I dragged myself to this film: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His character, the dreamer, gets lost in the shadow of DiCaprio, but his moments are entertaining and well-acted. His anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel is also one of the most physically impressive moments of the film, though Nolan annoyingly cuts away from it a million times.

Despite the successful performances, I am bothered by two things so much that I can't enjoy the film. The first is Christopher Nolan's inherent humorlessness. All of his films suffer from this, from The Prestige to the Batman films and especially Memento, which I hated. His characters are consistently flat and devoid of emotion or personality.

And this brings me to my second issue: DiCaprio. I have this sort of weird love-hate relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. For whatever reason, I continue to watch films he stars in and seethe with hatred/disappointment. I do think he's a talented actor able to pull of versatile performances. He usually exudes intelligence and charm and is comfortable with humor. I think his problem is that he's gotten lazy. He can just sit back and continue to ride the Scorcese train, despite the fact that most of his recent films are utter shit-shows. Allegedly, Nolan rewrote Inception to give Cobb a bigger screen presence at DiCaprio's suggestion. Zzzzzzzz.

The film's impressive viral marketing campaign has gotten everyone thinking they need to see this film, but I wish they had spent that money to hire a talented screenwriter. Overall the film has gotten mixed reviews, notably bad reviews by accomplished critics, but glowing reviews by sci-fi fan boys. Though I usually land smack in the middle of the fan boy camp, Inception ultimately has to go on my List of Films Loved by People Who Have No Taste. Also included in this list are Memento, Fight Club, Pi, and Donny Darko.

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