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Movie Review: Inception

July 16, 2010
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I guess statistically speaking, it was bound to happen.  If you see enough movies, eventually you are going to witness a great movie that just doesn’t do it for you.  Such was the case with Inception.  I was poised to love the movie and declare it a cinematic masterpiece, if not one of my favorite films of the year. I walked out seeing people high five each other and hug each other in a joyful embrace, no doubt exalted by the awesomeness of the film that they had just witnessed. How I envied them.

I left  frustrated, angry and annoyed. I desperately wanted to belong to that group of blissfully happy movie-goers, but I couldn’t fake it.  I just didn’t enjoy the movie.

Is that to say that it was not an excellent film?  Of course not.  On a purely technical basis, the film is amazing. It is also wildly imaginative, smart and original, all the things I clamor for during the summer film schedule.  Try as I might, though, I couldn’t get engaged in the story.  I never connected with any of the characters, and as a consequence, I never felt any urgency or peril regarding their situations.

Thus, I found the movie to be somewhat of a chore to sit through (particularly the first hour), and bogged down by unnecessary dialogue that still didn’t clarify the plot. A dream within a dream?  Cool.  A dream within a dream within a dream?  Um, okay, I’m on board. A dream within a dream within a dream within in a dream?  Screw you, I’m out of here.

That’s exactly how I felt about the movie.  I was fully on board until the plot became so convoluted (four layers deep, as they say in the film) that it sucked all the fun out of it for me.  I became so mired down trying to keep four separate dream sequences straight that it actually was stressing me out, I couldn’t enjoy the movie.  The story became this behemoth beast that cannibalized the wonderful set pieces, the stunning CGI, and the ethereal atmosphere that was pervasive throughout the movie.

Briefly, the movie deals with a team of people who can invade people’s dreams, when they are at there most vulnerable. Corporations have been using the technology to extract corporate secrets from their competitors.   Leonardo Dicaprio (as Cobb)  is one of the most highly sought after individuals who specialize in this  type of dream espionage. He is approached by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to pull off something entirely new:  instead of extracting information, Saito wants Cobb to plant information in some one’s head that will  affect the way the company is handled in the future.  Inception, we come to find out, is the word for planting a grain or seed of an idea, and letting it grow to its fruition organically.

Saito sweetens the deal by ensuring that he will arrange for Cobb to be allowed back into the United States, where he may see his children again.  Cobb accepts, and compiles a “team” to help him accomplish the task.  Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao comprise the team, with each serving as an integral cog in the machine.

In order to pull off the heist, the team will have to go “four layers deep” into dreamland.  Each consecutive layer involves special rules they must abide by.  For instance, they use “kickers” which are auditory or physical cues to pull them out of deep dreams, so that they don’t become stuck in limbo.  If you die in a dream before you get the kicker, you are essentially damned for all eternity in a dream limbo-land.  You can see why you want reliable team members to help you navigate the dreams.

Cobb’s quest is frequently interrupted by the physical (or not)  manifestation of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard), usually at very inopportune times.  She is buried deep in his sub-concious, so when he is dreaming, and at his most vulnerable, she makes an appearance.  These dreams come across as more of an alternate reality than an imagined state, so it is very difficult to distinguish what is real, and what isn’t.

I found it unfortunate that there were so many similarities between the character that Dicaprio plays here, and the character he just played in Shutter Island.  The story lines become dangerously close to intersecting in one instance, and I found it odd that both of these movies would be released so closely to one another, and that Dicaprio decided to take both starring roles.

This is not an acting-centric movie, the acting plays second fiddle to the story.  Dicaprio is serviceable, but most of the secondary players become lost in the shuffle.  Ellen Page barely manages to register a blip on screen.  Levitt has precious little dialogue, most of his role is non-speaking.

Overall, it was the non-speaking times in the movie that I enjoyed the best.  The film works best for me as a series of haunting images strewn together.  I would love to see this movie get the Koyaanisqatsi treatment-strip the dialogue, set the whole film to music, and watch the mesmerizing imagery.  Three days after viewing the film, I still have the same five images that won’t leave my head, in particular a scene set  in a white van, and a sequence set in a zero-gravity hallway.

Hans Zimmer provides an exhilarating and intense score for the movie. I’m sure that some will find it heavy handed, but I really loved it.

As for the CGI, it’s simply astounding.  Buildings fold into one another, cities collapse and crumble.  It looks like a Salvador Dali painting convincingly brought to life.  It’s gorgeous.

There is no doubt that Nolan is some sort of genius.  I am a big fan, and absolutely loved Memento and The Prestige.  I admire his ability to write and bring his utterly whacked out visions to the big screen.  I am thankful this movie is out there this summer, even though it isn’t my favorite movie he has made.

I encourage everyone to go see the movie, formulate your own opinion. No two people are going to experience it the same way.  My husband and I had wildly diverse takes on it.  I’m sure I will have a completely different experience if I were to see it again.

Watching Inception was like walking into an art gallery featuring the works of Monet. I notice the art on the walls, recognize that it is beautiful and of high caliber, but I am not tempted to buy a piece and hang it on my wall.  It’s just not my personal taste.

Rating 3.5/5

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4 Responses to “ Movie Review: Inception ”

  1. Zach on July 16, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Really great review. It’s nice to see a critic not be pressured into making a love-it or hate-it decision, especially with how polarizing Inception has been for most critics. I saw this last night and am on the same page as you. I wanted to love it — didn’t — but still value it for what it tried to accomplish, even if it tried to accomplish just a bit too much.

  2. Shannon on July 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    @Zach,
    Thanks so much. I really struggled with how to cover this film, and your comment made my day. :)

  3. anncine on July 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I think you nailed it. I could not agree more.

    “I never connected with any of the characters, and as a consequence, I never felt any urgency or peril regarding their situations.
    Thus, I found the movie to be somewhat of a chore to sit through (particularly the first hour), and bogged down by unnecessary dialogue that still didn’t clarify the plot. A dream within a dream? Cool. A dream within a dream within a dream? Um, okay, I’m on board. A dream within a dream within a dream within in a dream? Screw you, I’m out of here.”

  4. Sandy Delone on July 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I loved Inception, the story was original and Leo was awesome in it! I have to watch it again to make sure everything sinks in! :)

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