22 July, 2010

Review: Inception: High Conception, Low Expectation, Not Too Clever By Half

Inception, is a film you may have heard a lot about by now. Well, sort of. One of the things you have most heard about is the embargo on juicy details that preview screening film critics were put under not to reveal. You will have heard that Christopher Nolan, the director of the twisty reverse chronologically viewed alleged short term memory loss suffering thriller Memento and the brooding to the point of nihilism Batman revival The Dark Knight. You will be told that Nolan likes to create as much as possible in camera rather than CGI as it gives actors something real to react against, otherwise, ostensibly, they might have to, erm... act. You've probably heard that the film is about thieves who have a way of infiltrating dreams to steal ideas, the film's tagline is "Your mind is the scene of the crime". You will have heard things like "a thinking man's blockbuster", "thoughtful popcorn movie".

At one point a character points out to another character that they should know they are in a dream, because they don't know how they got there, having just been seen somewhere else. We don't know how they got there either, because it was a simple cut between the scenes which we take for granted. In this obvious way Nolan links the logic of dreams with the time/space compression that is part of the language of films. However, this gets us back to the problem that afflicts all movies that are built in solipsistic universes, once you open the possibility that anything we are watching could be a dream, well then where does it end, and how many times are they going to pull the "they're awake! or are they?!!" moment. If everything or anything is happening in a dream with few consequences in the real world, how does any of it matter. "Why should we care?"

The answer to why we should care, rests entirely on the charisma and character of DiCaprio's Dom Cobb, an expert dream thief who is on the run from his past and in manipulated into doing the supposedly impossible "inception" job (planting, rather than stealing an idea, haven't they heard of advertising?). If he does the job, he will finally be able to go home. Unfortunately Cobb is the only character with any depth, only Page's Ariadne, the newbie exposition character comes close, but that's mostly because she's been given the ball (or is it her chess piece totem?) of being the link to the audience. The section where she learns the ropes is great fun as it gives us the supposed rules of dreamland, and many of the funky and spectacular effects.

The rest of film divides itself between the frenetic action in pulling the subconscious con-job, and Cobb's need to deal with his own past and the potentially dangerous baggage it brings to the dream world. All the swirling and convoluted action around what he is doing really doesn't feel like it matters. The action is very flash and entertaining, and engrossing, in the way that a classic heist picture is engrossing as we watch the pieces fall into place, but as it's just a dream, I felt fairly unconcerned about the perceived perils. Cobb's emotional revelations and redemption though fairly predictable, provide interesting enough counterpoint to the drawn out action, and only occasionally deadens the pace of the proceedings.

The film is overall visually stunning, and thoroughly entertaining. I was a bit disappointed because I was expecting it to be twistier than it is, constantly looking for the "or are they?" moment, which was a waste of time, distracted me from what turns out to be much more straightforward, though cleverly put together caper film. I was also disappointed that the dreamland was so mundane, although this is perhaps to keep the action grounded enough to give it some impact on the audience. If, for instance, everyone suddenly turned into jars on a condiments shelf in Harrod's Food Hall, it would be hard to care about the outcome of that fistfight, or whether the subconscious assassins would spread the protagonists over their burgers.

It is slightly unfortunate that the hype of the film planted the idea that this was an allegedly cerebral film, while it is more thoughtful than the average actioner, it is not as clever as it's been sold. (I have torn apart some of the more glaring inconsistencies in the spoiler filled: Life Irritates Art: Inception Deception) I would have enjoyed it much more had I avoided the hype altogether, and paradoxically, all the "we can't talk about the details" guff, only helped serve to make me think it was safe to hear what they could talk about. So avoid the hype, lower your expectations and you should have a great time with Inception.



Post a Comment

<< Home