by Mel Valentin
A lackluster, mediocre summer, brightened only by the "Toy Story 3" last month, raised hopes and heightened anticipation for Christopher Nolanís ("The Prestige," "Batman Begins," "Insomnia," "Memento," "Following"), so-called ďexistential heist film,Ē "Inception." Based on a remarkable run spread out across six films and twelve years, expectations were (and are) high for "Inception," Nolanís follow-up to 2008ís critically acclaimed, box-office hit, "The Dark Knight" (the No. 3 film domestically, box-office wise, unadjusted for inflation). Unfortunately, those expectations were too high for "Inception," a film thatís overlong, over-indulgent, and ultimately, disappointing.Inception centers on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an expert in an unusual kind of corporate espionage. New technology allows Cobb and his longtime associate and point man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to enter a shared dream space with a target or mark, manipulating their dreams to extract corporate secrets for their employers. (The McGuffin-style secrets and Cobbís employers are unimportant to the narrative, so Nolan leaves them unexplained.) Cobbís latest dream heist, an attempt to steal unspecified secrets from Saito (Ken Watanabe), the CEO of a multinational conglomerate. Cobb's late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), the product of Cobb's grief- and guilt-stricken subconscious, appears in the shared dream space to sabotage the extraction.
"The Dark Knight gave us hope. Inception took it away."
Despite Cobbís failure, Saito offers Cobb a deal he canít refuse: in exchange for ďinception,Ē implanting an idea in the subconscious of a business rival, Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), Saito promises to use his (again unspecified) influence with U.S. authorities to clear Cobbís name and allow him to return to the United States and his children. Cobb accepts and, Mission Impossible-style, assembles his team. Arthur returns as his point man. Miles (Michael Caine), Cobbís father-in-law and university professor, introduces Cobb to his most talented student, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Ariadne takes her name and function from the Greek maze-building, mythological character. According to the rules Cobb explains to audience stand-in/walking exposition device Ariadne, dreams must be created as complex mazes, to better convince the mark that a particular dream belongs exclusively to them. Only Architects, however, can create multi-leveled dreams. A fourth subconscious level exists: unreconstructed dream space (a.k.a. limbo).
Over-long, repetitive, Matrix-style exposition scenes with Cobb and Ariadne walking and talking their way through the rules of the Inception universe fill up the first hour, breaking away for minor plot developments, including the addition of the final two members of the dream team: Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger capable of assuming the identity of the markís friends or relatives inside the dream space and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the chemist whoíll administer and supervise the sedatives necessary to enter shared dreaming. The Bourne-influenced side trip to Mombasa to recruit Eames gives Inception a much-needed action boost, but fails to illuminate Eamesí character or add depth to Cobb's. Itís also meant to give moviegoers a reminder that Cobbís former employers arenít happy with his failure to deliver Saito's secrets.
Nolan gives Inception a marginal sense of urgency by giving Cobb 10 hours to complete inception: the time itíll take for the flight Fisher, Cobb, and Cobb's team to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the continental United States. If he doesnít complete the mission in time, heíll be arrested when he disembarks in Los Angeles, but limits the stakes to Cobbís mental and emotional health and, if successful, clearing his name so he can rejoin his children in the United States. The stakes for Saito and Fischer, whether to break up the business empire Fischer will inherit from his dying father, are only important as a means to an end for Cobb, not as ends in themselves. Cobbís team donít have personal stake in the mission, except financial ones. Money matters too, presumably, especially for Eames and Yusef, the least developed member of Cobbís team. Nolan failed to connect Cobbís personal journey to the resolution of Saito and Fischerís linear, revelation-free subplot.
Itís an indication of how little we learn and how little we care about Cobbís team, however, that Nolan gives them only get one name. Arthur, Ariadne, and Yusuf donít get second names; Eames doesnít get a first name. Everyone on Cobbís team is defined by what they do and how they function relative to Cobb, not by their individual personalities, identities, or inner lives (i.e., they have none). Ariadne's function as dream architect extends to acting as Cobb's de facto therapist. Per his narrative function, Arthur runs point for Cobb in and outside the dreamscape. He suspects Cobbís emotional state endangers the reverse-heist, but never acts on it. Eames can swap identities inside the dreamscape, but Nolan leaves that particular talent underused.
As Cobb, DiCaprio channels the furrowed-brow, watery-eyed intensity that made his performance as the doomed central character in Shutter Island so memorable. Here, it feels imitative (because it is). Nolanís exposition-heavy, Cobb-centered screenplay gives little room for the other actors to show or prove their range. Only Marion Cotillard gets the opportunity to show emotional range. The other actors are left adrift, forced to utter reams of background and exposition, worry over Cobbís mental health (Ariadne and, to a lesser extent, Arthur), or engage in Bourne/Bond-inspired action heroics (in the case of Arthur and Eames).What exactly did we expect as moviegoers (and critics) from "Inception?' Style, substance, and spectacle. Nolan certainly delivers on style. Guy Dyasí production design team, Wally Pfisterís cinematography, and Hans Zimmer's score (only slightly less memorable than his score for "The Dark Knight") deserve high marks. Nolan gives us spectacle, as only a $160 million budget and live-action footage on several continents can deliver, plus imaginative set pieces set inside the dreamscape, including the floating fight scene teased in the trailers and TV ads. Nolan, however, doesnít deliver substance. He attempts to draw us in to Cobbís overly familiar personal journey or the linear reverse-heist itself, but fails. By the end of "Inceptionís" lugubrious 2-and-1/2 hour running time, whether Cobb overcomes his grief and guilt at Malís loss and/or is reunited with his children, matters only slightly more than Nolanís misconceived attempt to manufacture excited post-screening conversation from the last, ambiguous shot.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19934&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/16/10 18:26:00