Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Inception

Inception. Directed & Written by Christopher Nolan.

Preconceptions: I love Christopher Nolan. He is one of my favourite directors, perhaps even my Caitlin R. Kiernan of directors (to get this joke, please see just about any entry of this blog where we endlessly praise CRK). Through various mischance, I missed seeing Inception in the theaters. I even went so far as to show up at a theater and find that it had left the previous day. As I tapped my foot, impatiently waiting for it to come out on DVD I heard good things. I heard that it was extremely intelligent and expected a lot from the viewer, that it was beautifully shot and that DiCaprio out-did himself. When it arrived I shut the blind, pressed play and waited to be transported.

General Review: Well, it was beautifully shot. Christopher Nolan is still one of my favourite directors. He made a number of impossible things look believable. The colour pallet was gorgeous and the scope was vast. Unfortunately (and I fear I may have more than a few people disagree with me here) it just wasn't that well written. I don't know if it's because Nolan works better when writing with his brother or if it's because this was an earlier piece of his writing and he's matured since then, but it simply wasn't up to the level that I've come to expect. It was both dated and derivative, culled from cliff notes from a Philosophy 101 class and from the scripts of both the Matrix and What Dreams May Come (another visually stunning, but clumsily handled piece).

Don't scan the next paragraph if you haven't seen it and fear the incredibly telegraphed plot spoilers.

It wasn't just the town bicycle concept of entering the dream-scape using sci-fi technology that bothered me. I knew that was the premise going in and I figured Nolan would do something new with it. The main emotional plot, DiCaprio coming to terms with his wife's death, was clunky and unnatural (and weirdly similar to the plot of Shutter Island). All of the dialogue on the subject was stilted and melodramatic. Also: ridiculously close to the plot of What Dreams May Come. Finally, the "it's supposed to make you think, but all it did was make me roll my eyes" ambiguous ending was forced to M. Night Shyamalan proportions (don't worry, I won't write what it is even in the spoilers section).

Here endth the spoilers (but not the complaining).

Some of the melodrama in the writing could have been mitigated by stellar acting. Stellar acting was nowhere to be found. I've been a fence sitter about DiCaprio for a long time. I haven't fallen in love with his performance in anything, but I don't feel as though it's been a true detriment either (though that accent in Shutter Island was a near thing). He was a handicap to Inception (coincidentally, it was another movie where they say the title over and over, though not a Western this time). He didn't sell the bad lines and worse, he didn't sell the good ones. Marion Cotillard was mumble mouthed and shallow, not at all the complex and alluring character that everyone kept telling us she was. In fact, their entire performance could have been outdone by a couple of hand puppets. I've been quite partial to Ellen Page in the past, but she fell flat in this as well. When she attempted to discover what DiCaprio was hiding from the team, it felt like shrewish nagging and prying and not at all as though she was helping him for his own good.

The exposition was endless. For a movie touted to expect a bit of wit from its audience, it drove home every plot point with all the subtlety of a railroad spike in the head. Every term was explained again and again so that us morons in the audience would have time to catch on.

All the cleverness and sparkle lacking in the writing and acting could be found in the directing. There were some absolutely astonishing shots. As I mentioned above, we were shown several impossible things that became totally believable due to the skill with which they were portrayed. The fight scene in shifting gravity was seamless (much to the credit of Joseph Gordon Levitt of cute boy review fame) and the sets and locations were stunning. Also: credit where it's due, the idea of making a movie about the subconscious also a heist movie is pretty cool.

I feel badly saying so many bad things about Inception given how skillfully it was directed, it was a treat to watch Nolan use a huge budget to good effect. The plot, the dialogue and the acting just weren't there. I'd still go see something with his name on it strictly because his name was on it but this one wasn't a win in my books.

Aside: Am I a dummy who is reading too much into this, or were some of the characters meant to represent DiCaprio's boring and shrill subconscious?

1 comment:

  1. i have always said the weakest part of inception was DiCaprio.
    have you ever noticed that some of the most beloved movies out there have horrible dialog (the original star wars movies for example).
    what made this movie great was that people talked about it, they talked about their theories about the conclusions, the actions etc.
    And that made the movie beautiful.
    that being said lilformers.com did a great comic involving Neo and Freddy discussing the film.