Great effects and production design but where's the story?
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cottillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas
Screened at: AMC Lincoln Square, NYC, 7/13/10
Opens: July 16, 2010
Anyone who doesn't agree that dreams are one of the most mysterious and thrilling aspects of life must be on Provigil. What's most exciting is that dreams are not put into your head by an outside force. You write the script, you do the filming, the editing, and chances are you have a knack for the surreal. It's no wonder that much of art, literature, the movies and theater are motivated by the dreams of the artists. And who better to illustrate the drama of the dream than the director whose "Memento" deals with the struggle of a man with short-term memory loss to find his wife's killer by use of notes and tattoos?
"Inception" is both an actioner and a picture eager to mess with our brains-in the same way that our own brains do when we're asleep. Since a dream that actually lasts five minutes could involve an hour's worth of activity, Christopher Nolan affords us sufficient time, almost two and one-half hours, challenging us to play close attention because...blink...and you've lost the thread.
The trouble with "Inception" is that there is scarcely a thread involved. In other words "Inception" violates the fundamental precept of visual and print entertainment, the "tell-me-a-story" idea that has fascinated us ever since mommy or daddy read from the Golden Book or, even better, made up a tale with a consistent piece of yarn running through it-which may just be why they sometimes call a story a yarn.
Nolan is so busy putting forth up to four separate yarns that he hopes to weave into a whole that at least some in the audience are prompted to wonder: "What is that there for? Why are people shooting at each other in Canada's snow-capped mountains? Why the car crashes?"
The plot revolves around a job that a major corporate businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe) gives to Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), the latter known as an extricator, one who can peer into the Freudian unconscious (here called subconscious) and know what the person is thinking. This time he must use his talent for the first time at inception. He must actually put ideas into the dream world of one Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the putative heir to a major corporation run by his father, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite), designed to break up the company which is competing with Saito's. After giving Cobb a test, which is thrown at the audience immediately without even a roll of the credits or the title, he hires the man who then picks up a staff including Ariadne (Ellen Page), a brilliant student of architecture; Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger; and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist to provide the drug to enable multiple people to share different dream states). In return for planting lethal ideas into the head of the competition, Saito promises to smooth the way for Cobb, a fugitive thought to have murdered his wife, to return home to the United States. (If he can do this, he's a luckier man than Roman Polanski). Cobb's principal motive is to get back to his two small children and, in fact, while carrying out his job, he is regularly interrupted-that is, his dreams are interrupted-by memories of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).
This film can be compared to "The Thirteenth Floor," which deals with the murder of the owner of a multi-billion dollar computer enterprise and inventor of a virtual reality simulation. The difference is that its director, Josef Rusnak, never loses sight of the need for a comprehensible story, one that can be figured out by the time the end credits come up. What gives "Inception" its status as the movie to see this summer is not its story, certainly not its silly dialogue, but rather its visual effects, stunts, production design and view of the world on four continents including locations in Japan, Morocco, England, Los Angeles, and Calgary, Canada. The view of the city of Paris folding in on itself is perhaps the most awe-inspiring effect, an event that finds Cobb telling his sidekick architect, Ariadne, that there's nothing to worry about: t's all part of our dream.
Some original concepts are thrown at us, like the idea of limbo, into which a dreamer can be caught and remain for decades if he doesn't take care, and the power of memory of a loved one who has died and who intrudes on dreams that have been designed strictly for business. The romantic scenes between Mal and Cobb are barely comprehensible as are those depicting the repetitive gunfights and explosions on the snowy mountains. Joseph Gordon-Levitt enjoys his role as Arthur, the point man who takes care of details and enjoys floating around hallways as if he were the second man on the moon.
Calderón de la Barca, the great Spanish playwright, may be smiling in his grave. His classic play, "Life is a Dream," expresses this idea: "What is life? A frenzy. What is life? A fiction. A shadow, an illusion...For all of life is a dream, And dreams are nothing but dreams." However, simply issuing up one dream after another, with dreams OF dreams, may be carried out successfully if you have enough money to throw at the screen. What's most important, though, is narrative: the production team appears to have forgotten the mandate, "Tell me a story."
Rated PG-13. 148 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online