Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Man on Film: Inception

So you may have surmised I was not head-over-heels in love with Christopher Nolan's latest film, Inception. Really, the stars should have aligned in such a fashion that the end result was a pleasing one to me. Aside from the perceived misstep that was the Insomnia remake*, Nolan has done little wrong in my book. Memento was a total mindfuck, and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were head and shoulders above your standard superhero fare. Sure, The Prestige was a little cold, but it was certainly better than its Dante's Peak counterpart, The Illusionist, and Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play pretty well off each other. Even Following was pretty damn good as I remember it.

*While I rather liked the original Swedish film, the resounding critical backlash surrounding the Nolan version combined with the choice of casting the two loudest over-actors in the past, well, ever was more than enough to scare me off.

With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, and Tom Berenger on board, I think there is justification for being pretty damn excited. DiCaprio has been pretty solid for the past five years or so, especially in the work he has done with Martin Scorcese. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has quietly become one of the most promising young actors in the business. The foreigners brought in were great, and it was pretty sweet seeing Berenger in a major motion picture again. While I am not insanely into Marion Cotillard, she was solid in the film, and the glaring potential problem was Ellen Page going in. She may not have ruined the movie, but she surely didn't help it either.

Now, gauging my feelings by the series of little "Inception is totally the best movie since..." posts, you can certainly tell that my reaction to the film is not the most favorable.

For the most part, I think Inception is a pretty good movie. It has a complex narrative structure that makes you think about the movie after you leave the theater. While you rack your brain trying to piece together the action, working out the layered plot, it would be easy to convince yourself that the movie you saw was mind-blowing.

But what did it really do?

Aside from the superficial complexity of the narrative itself, there isn't a lot of depth to the film. With the arguable exception of DiCaprio's Cobb (and if you are really reaching, Cotillard's Mal), there is not a single person in the film whose is even remotely developed. Even Cobb, the protagonist doesn't really have anything profoundly change him. How is Cobb discernibly different from the beginning to the end of the film?

Additionally, there really isn't much of a deeper philosophical meaning to the film. There is the "what this reality?" dilemma and the open ending, but I would hardly say that either element is anything more than a sly little trick and the existential conundrum is relatively insubstantial.

It may seem like I'm nitpicking, and perhaps I am, but I think the main issue I take with the film is the rave reaction that the film has gotten. It currently sits at #4 on the IMDB top 250. That's of all-time. Granted, as more of the populace sees the film, it will slip down the rankings, but I really don't see how this film even remotely compares to, say, Rear Window or Casablanca.

I will even allow for the fact that the movie is pretty "cool," but I would have to say most of the arresting visuals are in the first 45 minutes, and then we are treated to the actual mission. Within the mission, I would argue that the only sublime scene is the hotel scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in zero-gravity. The car chase and the alpine hospital sequence are both surprisingly pedestrian, and a lot rides on those being more than ordinary.

Clearly this review makes it seem like I didn't like the movie. I definitely wouldn't go that far. I liked it for the most part. In what had been a relatively shitty summer for movies up until its release, Inception was a breath of fresh air, but let's be realistic about the film. It has plenty of flaws, and some are fairly significant.

Find me a flaw in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Casablanca. North by Northwest. Hell, The Sting is starting from a better foundation, and that's essentially within the same genre.

I just want the world to have a little perspective about this film. That's all.


qualler said...

I'm in complete agreement with your assessment of Inception. In the theater, I enjoyed my time, as it was a really "cool", slightly-more-complex-than-usual special effects extravaganza, with well orchestrated action sequences, and a story that was more than robots blowing each other up. But after seeing it, all I really remember are the cool action sequences -- I did not come away with more of a takeaway than that.

Big Hatt said...

Jeez Louise Duggan, what a killjoy. I knew this lukewarm review was coming, but hoped it wouldn't. Inception was legit.

You've been on a september tear though. Good for you. I've been writing all sports and no movies for the past month or so, and I'm not happy about it. Didn't even see Expendables. Hadn't stopped by here for a while and then I come back and its exploded. Nice to see.

Old Man Duggan said...

@ Big Hatt - Thanks. I had so much to get caught up on, it was pretty daunting.

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