Sunday, 1 August 2010

Inception (2010) – Cinema Review (7.5/10)

Almost Back On Form

Inception is the new film from Christopher Nolan, the acclaimed director of films such as Momento, The Prestige and The Dark Knight.

The lead character of Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond, Titanic, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island), is essentially a freelance corporate espionage agent. He and his team invade the dreams of high powered individuals, and construct dream worlds that enable them to steal their secrets. Cobb is soon hired to do the supposedly impossible. Inception. The planting of an idea into the mind of another person. In true heist-movie style, he must them assemble a team of the best in order to stand a chance of succeeding, whilst dealing with his own personal demons.

The general ideas within Inception are hardly original, but have all been combined to make something reasonably different and enjoyable. Take a dash of Mission Impossible mixed with a little of any heist movie, slip in a hefty portion of James Bond action, throw in a chunk of Dreamscape, the mind-bending industrial espionage and the worlds-within-worlds of eXistenZ or Cypher and then a heavy dose of tragically misunderstood hero, and Voila!

Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Inception, was that its most interesting moments always felt like the tip of the iceberg. In a world of dreams, the imagery and imagination are unlimited. Instead, it often feels like an excuse for a lot of superfluous, time wasting Bond-style escapades. It also suffers from showing its best (Or at least its most visually impressive) moments in the trailers.

The characters, other than DiCaprio, are all thinly drawn, relying almost completely on the actors' performances to give them what little definition they have. The most notable of which is Ariadne (Clearly a reference to the daughter of King Minos, instrumental in the escape of Theseus in the legend of the Minotaur and its labyrinth), played by Ellen Page (Juno, X-Men 3). To Page's credit, she gives her rather flat part the suggestion of a personality, which is utterly lacking in the script. It could be argued that the lack of character in others, nods toward the possibility of the film's final moment, but it doesn't seem likely. Ariadne, whilst being the most defined character besides DiCaprio's, also lacks some basic motivations. She is a seemingly innocent university student suddenly plunged into this world of illegal industrial espionage, yet barely blinks an eye at the legality, danger or morality of what she is embarking on.

On the plus side, I think DiCaprio gives his best performance since Blood Diamond, simply because now and again you do occasionally think of him as the character, rather than DiCaprio 'acting' (See my review of Revolutionary Road for a better idea of what I mean). The story also becomes more interesting as it proceeds, changing from a slightly underwhelming heist-style thriller with a twist, to the realisation that the surface plot is simply a device to aid in dealing with the deeper character story (which could almost be a contemporary/future retelling of DiCaprio's previous film, Shutter Island).

I don't mind saying that despite the commonly held opinion that Nolan's previous film (The Dark Knight) was a masterpiece, I found it a bloated and repetitive mess. Not drastically so, but enough to make it a very mediocre and disappointing film, so I went into Inception with a little trepidation. It sounded interesting, but the hype was similar to The Dark Knight. Pleasingly, Inception is somewhat of a return to form. Before The Dark Knight, Nolan also directed Batman Begins, which was a successfully tight character piece with a well structured story that justified its own length. The Dark Knight was longer, but had nowhere near the story or character to support it. Inception lies somewhere in the middle. Nolan is dealing with an interesting idea, and there's a lot of ground to cover. Having said that, it does start to drag and wallow in its own overly-convoluted story, while characterisation seems to have been swapped in favour of repetitive and superfluous action.

Personally, if you enjoyed the ideas and possibilities that Inception uses, I would suggest seeing David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. It deals with very similar themes, but much more successfully. It's not quite such mainstream or easy viewing, but explores the concepts with far more daring and depth. I don't normally give half-marks, but Inception clearly felt better than an 'enjoyable but average' mark of 7, but didn't quite warrant that step up to 8. It's slickly made, intelligent, and (for the most part) well thought out within the logic of its own world. It won't stretch your imagination (except perhaps in keeping track of the convoluted plot) or provoke many deep questions, but it's an interesting and enjoyable ride.

7.5 / 10

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