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Inception covers the typical strategy of Christopher Nolan’s films of late: an overly ambitious, needlessly complicated script that leaves gaping logic gaps and then tries covering them up with the breakneck pacing of its equally ambitious and dazzling action set pieces. Nolan delivers on these in spades, though, as he has proven time after time. When not trying to follow the plot step by step, the movie entertains immensely. Trying to reason out the maneuvers the characters make along the way, though, bogs down the viewing process.

The movie is essentially a heist film, a genre that begs the creator to be overly clever in plotting. Nolan adds his mark to that gladly, with Leonardo DiCaprio attempting to pilfer information from targets’ dreams. While an interesting concept in itself it would have worked better with fewer explanations of the rules that just wound up being broken later anyway. In fact, the rules exist only to be broken, as a cheap way of adding drama to the story. For all the layers of delicacy in keeping a target from knowing that they are in a dream DiCaprio ends up telling mark Cillian Murphy just that nearly as soon as they go under, thanks to unforeseen circumstances, thereby negating a chunk of the planning phase. While this may work in a novel it feels like a waste of screen time in Inception.

Of the film’s actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt best acquits himself as DiCaprio’s right hand man. He handles the action sequences with fluidity and seems the constant professional among a group that touts that while rarely delivering on its promise. DiCaprio seems like he’s rarely in control even when meant to be projecting that sort of confidence. Perhaps it’s his facial hair’s fault; the peachy scruff looks entirely out of place on his Peter-Pan-young face. Similarly Ellen Page never feels like the college student genius she’s introduced as; her fresh, high school kid looks are completely at odds with her worldly, bored, middle aged voice. I quite enjoyed Tom Hardy as their “forger.” He seemed to always have something going on behind his moves, like he kept a hidden contingency plan from the others in  case of emergency. He is a conman, after all, and should have some secrets.

The set pieces Nolan has dreamed up are worthy of the film’s premise, especially the arctic set. While at first I felt like what he shot may have been the most perfect James Bond scene in years it also made me speculate what the G.I. Joe franchise might have yielded in his hands. Oh, for the Cobra Island invasion denied us. Several other of the chases make great use of the scenery, establishing DiCaprio and crew as slippery, adaptable and deceptively physical in a scrape. Whether on foot or by car, these scenes all made for riveting viewing.

I have mentioned the plot layering already, but the script has good elements, too. In a concept seemingly borrowed from Stephen King’s The Jaunt, the dreamtime action has very serious real world effects, possibly worse than death. I admired that the story went beyond the typical die-in-a-dream, die-in-real-life consequence. The dialogue, though, occasionally slips into “movie moment” phrasing, completely derailing the believability in a couple of key scenes. Some of these lines just couldn’t be delivered by anyone, something Nolan has been guilty of in the past (think The Dark Knight’s “playing this close to the chest”). I appreciated elements that could have used more exploration over the plot, such as what was essentially an opium den for dreamers. I was highly intrigued by this but it turned out to be a throwaway revelation only intended to introduce the team’s anesthesiologist, Dileep Rao, though he turned out to be a decent character.

Hardy possesses a kind of superpower in dreams that hardly gets any explanation at all but brought up a question for me: if you know you are in a dream why does everyone so frequently externalize their power? Guns fit into the action scenarios repeatedly and are dropped in fights with great frequency. Why not have internalized abilities to defend yourself if you’re just making it up? Murphy eventually knows that he is in a dream, so it’s too late to keep that secret. Why not go wild with your freedom? It started to feel a little too grounded in that way for me.

In the end, Inception is better than the sum of its parts. As an action movie it’s a little too smart for its own good; as a thriller, not quite solidly enough planned. But all together it makes for an engrossing watching experience. Just try not to poke too many holes in it. 3 stars

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2 Comments

  1. Sounds like it’s nowhere near as awesome as Dreamscape. Hell ,it doesn’t even have Dennis Quaid in it!


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