Peter Eramo Reviews: “Inception” (** ½)

Christopher Nolan’s Inception was perhaps the most widely anticipated movie of the summer; a summer besieged with lackluster remakes and sequels; a summer filled with mediocrity. Acknowledging the depth of Nolan’s past work (in particular, Insomnia and Memento), I too was looking forward to seeing this new sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, though I remained cautiously optimistic. Now, the film has had an impressive opening weekend at the box-office and has received a tremendous amount of critical and public acclaim. And though it is at times an engaging and entertaining film, it falls well short of its pre-perceived hype that had already declared it a “masterpiece” before it was even released. In fact, there is no reason to even be thinking of throwing around the overused “m” word in this case – the word is so recklessly thrown about too much as it is. But, I digress…

Inception is an easy enough movie to explain, however hopelessly wearing and nearly impossible to follow. That is because this is a film about dreams and nearly everything that we see here is a dream, or a dream within a dream — or as arduous as it sounds, a dream within a dream within another one. It’s an easy out for Nolan and he takes full advantage of it, believing that he is giving the public something to mull over and analyze, when really, he has a full-proof “out clause” for any perceived hole in the story, of which there are a few. Nothing needs to be logically explained here — it’s all surrounded by dreams…the writer’s ever-tempting “fall back.”

Set in the near-future, technology has now advanced to the point where people can enter into and access the dreams of others. Enter Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), a thief who specializes in entering people’s subconscious minds and extracting their ideas and thoughts. Cobb is fighting his own personal demons which build in the various dream sequences throughout the course of the film. Living from job to job, he wants nothing more than to be able to enter his home country once again and be reunited with his two small children, who he hasn’t seen in years. Enter the mysterious business tycoon, Saito (Ken Watanabe) who presents Cobb with a very intriguing proposition and the chance to return to his children for good: rather than extracting an idea from someone’s mind, Saito wants to hire Cobb to implant the seed of an idea into the mind of the wealthy heir of a gigantic business conglomerate (a wooden Cillian Murphy). This process — called “inception” — has seemingly never been done before, though Cobb insists it can be done and takes this one last risky job for a chance at redemption. “Assemble your team!” Saito shouts out from his private helicopter and with that, we are introduced to Cobb’s team of professionals.

Let’s start with that team, shall we? A fine collection of actors who are given very little to do. Nolan is not interested in giving these characters any depth whatsoever and we learn almost nothing about the entire lot. The result is that we are left with uninteresting, 2-dimensional characters who we have no emotional connection or investment in. His right-hand man and trusted associate Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), meticulously plans out all the intricacies of the mission, his forger (Tom Hardy) takes on various identities within the dreams, and Yusef (Dileep Rao) is their chemist who makes sure that everyone is properly in a deep sleep. But Nolan needs someone to explain all of his rules about the dream state to the audience, so he has Cobb hire a new architect (Ellen Page), someone who creates the structural design of the dream world. The dialogue in these parts, is a bit stiff as it really only exists to explain and narrate to the audience what is actually going on. Rao and Gordon-Levitt are fine, though kind of just “there.” Hardy actually brings a charm and certain suavity to Eames, the forger. Watanabe, though very fitting, is very hard to understand throughout because of his thick accent and a lot of dialogue is lost. Clarity is always a good thing. Ellen Page is simply a complete misfire here and brings almost nothing to the role of Ariadne. She plods along throughout the movie with little emotion and I just never bought into the silly idea that Cobb’s associates, who have worked with him for years, aren’t aware of his volatile mental state as it concerns his wife (who haunts him in each and every dream) — but the girl who has been on the job for a few days knows all about it and continues to pester Cobb to let the others in on his little secret. Marion Cotillard plays Cobb’s wife, and as we come to expect, she is quite captivating here and keeps our attention on her whenever she appears. The scenes between husband and wife are very well done and it’s the only time DiCaprio really gets to work his acting chops. Cotillard’s presence is pervasive, even in those scenes which she is not in. Michael Caine is wasted in his two scenes and it is a wonder why he even needed to play such a thankless role other than having worked with Nolan before.

Of course the special effects here are remarkably impressive, but at this point, isn’t that to be expected? I don’t really count that as such a major plus at this point, knowing how far technology in film has come. We watch DiCaprio and Page calmly sit outside a Parisian bistro as the city is blowing up all around them. Very cool to look at indeed, but when you know the two actors are sipping cappuccino in front of a green screen, it takes something away from the experience. The art direction truly stands out as does Hans Zimmer’s score. Lee Smith has the very tiring and impossible task of making sense of all of this and does a commendable job.

I must say that I was very much engrossed in this movie for the first hour. I loved the dynamic of Cobb and his wife and the idea of inception struck me as original and compelling. Everything is set up pretty well and I’m waiting to see how this mission will take shape. It’s when the team puts their “mark” (Murphy) under sedation that the film slowly begins to go south…and boy do I mean slowly. I have never minded a long film in my life, so long as it’s engaging and worth the time. The last hour of this movie just lumbers along at a painstaking pace you can’t wait for it to end – and that is never a good sign. What takes 40 minutes here can easily have taken 20 minutes, but I fear that Nolan falls so in love with his own vision that it comes back to bite him. Memento is the much tighter, smarter film; not to mention, the more entertaining of the two.

I have read a number of glowing reviews over the past couple of days and I wonder to myself if they were watching the same muddled mess I was watching. There is the idea that people were going to fall in love with this film no matter what they saw (which certainly happens). Perhaps compared to nearly every summer movie out there, this simply looks more impressive than it is based on comparison alone (which happens as well). I know that Nolan has a devout following and this is yet a third hypothesis. Look, I don’t think this a bad movie by any stretch — and I will certainly give it another viewing, which I feel it deserves. But I like to remain truthful and honest in my criticism and as much as I wanted to love it too, I cannot get past the many flaws that are quite clear in this work. In many ways, this is a cold movie — in mood, narration and approach to its audience. In areas it has remnants of The Matrix and Dreamscape, two films that I would give much higher recommendations to. In the end, I know this film will wind up on nearly every critic’s Top 10 list of the year, and I know when I see that, I will still be shaking my head wondering why….hoping that this too will be a dream that I am suddenly waken out of.

Year:          2010
Director:   Christopher Nolan

24 Responses to Peter Eramo Reviews: “Inception” (** ½)

  1. Will Silver says:

    I totally get where you’re coming from and I agree that the characters are 2d, just for me I thought it succeeded and was relentlessly entertaining despite any lack of supporting character depth. It is also one of the truest examples of science fiction I’ve ever seen in cinema. I usually am disappointed by Hollywood sci-fi, but Nolan seems to understand the genre. Great critical write-up!

    • Thank you, Will. I certainly do need to see it a second time. It wasn’t just the characters I had problems with. I thought Nolan took carte blanche with the whole concept of time. I liked it…wasn’t crazy about it. But i think I am in the minority. Again, need to see it again. I still love Dreamscape!!!

  2. Mad Hatter says:

    Y’know, as much as an amazing job as Meredith did as a guest on my podcast…I’m kinda sorry I didn’t have someone like you who wasn’t thrilled with the film as my latest guest to talk about it.

    On the whole I haven’t had too many disagreements with my guests where the review is concerned (just a fluke occurance), and especially where a buzz-worthy flick like this is concerned – and a writer as well-spoken as yourself – it’s a shame I can’t go back and mulligan.

    Good review – even if I disagree with ya on many points.

    • Thank you for the kind words. Would love to have been a guest. Any time you want me to chat about film…that’s surely what I love to do!

      I need to see the film again, that is for sure. I understand you disagree and that is what makes talking about movies so great. You surely liked it more than I did, though I didn’t dislike it at all — just too many schisms and the pacing of it for me was a bit painful as it plodded along…A solid film and worth the money though.

      • Joel Burman says:

        I’m with you Peter, saw it yesterday and was surprised at the amount of stuff that felt unfinished. To me it felt like rough cut aimed for a test screening.
        Still quite captivating but near as good as Matrix or eXistenZ.

        I’ll try to pin down my own analysis in a couple of days!

        • Looking forward to reading your write-up, Joel. Nowhere as good as Matrix and I am still surprised it is getting such great/positive press and word of mouth. I don’t get it – but will give it a 2nd viewing for sure.

  3. rtm says:

    Hi Peter, I like this more than you do, but I totally see the other side (those who don’t fall in love with it). I too think the movie could be trimmed a good 20 minutes or so, as it got quite indulgent in the second half. I also concur Aaron’s point that character development would make this a more satisfying film, but Nolan is more concerned about the concept more than each individual character. Though the cast had ‘little to do’ as you said, I feel that they did their best with what they’re given. Leo was pretty strong here, and Cotillard was the ‘heart’ of the movie, as she was in NINE also.

    “Hardy actually brings a charm and certain suavity to Eames, the forger. Watanabe, though very fitting, is very hard to understand throughout because of his thick accent and a lot of dialogue is lost.” Couldn’t agree more!! I thought that Hardy stole every scene he’s in, but Watanabe, though he was his charismatic self as always, I wish I could turn on the caption to catch what he was saying.

    Btw, a lot of critical darlings don’t blow me away either. Perhaps Inception might be what The Hurt Locker was for me last year?

    • good point about concept over character…you are right about that. I am glad you agree with me on Hardy here and Watanabe…Did they not realize he was incoherent in the dailies??? That is a major problem that must be dealt with, especially in a movie like this where you don’t want to lose lines. Cotillard is terrific — gave one of the very best performances ever for a female lead in la vie en Rose. Thank you for reading my dribble!

  4. You make some valid points, but I have to disagree with your overall assessment of the film. I think the film is magnificently constructed considering the complexity of ideas and it really isn’t that hard to follow if you’re genuinely interested in the concepts it serves up.

    I will post my own review soon though I would like to digest it a little more. I will say that I’m not buying into hype. I see the film on its own merits and in doing so I know it isn’t for everyone. But, I think you spend a little too much of your review trying to question other viewer’s opinions for praising the movie. Not everyone is drinking the Chris Nolan Kool-aid for liking this particular film. Like nearly all fantasies there is a certain suspension of belief; the viewer must be willing to take a leap of faith into the realm of the filmmaker. If you go with it, I think you’ll see something unique in Nolan’s vision, if you spend its running time trying to poke holes in the narrative, you won’t get much out of it.

    I enjoyed Momento, but at its core it’s your typical who-dun-it filmed in a unique way. Here Nolan has created an entire world based on the simple “heist film” concept. It worked for me in a big way, becuase as occasionally flawed as it is, it’s ambition more than makes up for it. I found the film compelling and never once thought it dragged. And unlike most summer action movies, it offers up a mythos that withstands repeat viewings.

    • You know I certainly respect your opinion and I am glad you liked it so much. I really don’t think I spent much time questioning everyone’s opinion on the movie, but I did want to point out that I don’t see what all the hoopla is about — and I tried to figure out why. I didn’t sit there trying to “poke holes” – like I said, I was very much into it for the first hour or so and then it just started falling apart for me. I am also not sure what to make of the very last scene of the movie when Nolan decides to cut to credits before the top stops — is this a cop-out or has he thoroughly established whether Cobb is in a dream or not? Not sure. It certainly is am ambitious work as you say. Curious to see how it will stand up as time goes…

  5. Simon/Ripley says:

    I’ll disagree with you, I thought the acting was great, especially considering the rather 2D character they were given to work with, and the movie itself engrossing. Yes, there are a shitload of plotholes, and the end enrages me (I mean, god), but otherwise, I thought it was really enjoyable. Then again, I was watching throuh the lens of a fangirl who had been anticipating this movie when James Franco was still cast.

    • I was engrossed for maybe the first hour. And if there is a “shitload of potholes,” in the film, doesn’t that make it severely flawed as a whole? I see though that you have been witing for this release for quite some time though. Again, not a bad movie – just not great, in my eyes.

  6. CMrok93 says:

    Freakin amazing!! I loved almost every single second of this!! Nolan is going to be considered as one of the best directors of all-time now, and I will stand by and say, yes, I have to also agree. Check out my review here:

    • have to agree with what? I think we disagree heavily on this film. Nolan should not be considered one of our elite directors — not near that league just yet…he is terribly overrated.

  7. Raul Duke says:

    Excellent review but I am a simple guy who goes to the movies to be entertained. This movie tried to be to “smart” and was much too arduous to watch. I kept trying to figure out what dream level they were in as if it made any difference to the plot. It attempted to be clever but fell short. It was poorly written and did not utilize the talents of the actors at all. Michael Caine seems to be typecast as a “go to” father figure. I guess that makes Leo and Mike Myers brothers. I gave this train wreck one and a half stars. Don’t waste your money or your energy. Cartharsis? Perfect…

    • Nora says:

      I guess this is what happens when anything is chosen over GF2… lesson learned!

      • Raul Duke says:

        Did we see a diffrent movie than CMrok93? Looking fwd. to SALT now. This summer season has been terrible for movies. We had a better time watching Curb reruns.. HA

        • Nora says:

          Yeah, WTF movie he was watching? Peter didn’t even notice that I actually fell asleep for a few minutes. Loved watching the Curb reruns! Ha!

  8. Nora says:

    Excellent write up. I think you hit it on the mark when you used the word “cold”. You’re right. As much as it tried, especially in the scenes with Cobb and his wife (which were no doubt the most intriguing ones), I still found it empty & hard to connect to any of the characters. As cool as the movie is to look at, I never quite found my way in to the dream, and that’s a shame because it’s why I go to the movies. Nolan spent too much time building these dreams and not enough on the dreams of his audience. His characters experience catharsis, but what about us…

  9. Castor says:

    “It’s an easy out for Nolan and he takes full advantage of it, believing that he is giving the public something to mull over and analyze, when really, he has a full-proof “out clause” for any perceived hole in the story, of which there are a few. Nothing needs to be logically explained here — it’s all surrounded by dreams…the writer’s ever-tempting “fall back.”

    Completely agree with you on this point. I truly think that for all of this movie’s “complexity” and convolution, it’s really quite superficial behind its facade and Nolan is only tricking people into believing there is more to it than it really is.

    The more I think about it, the more plot inconsistency I can uncover. It’s a post for another day I guess 🙂

    • Thank you, Castor! I completely agree with you — it IS superficial in many areas which makes all of the praise being bestowed on it all the mind-boggling. People just love Nolan and ride that wave. Thanks for agreeing!!!

  10. Aaron Weiss says:

    I don’t disagree with you on the characters’ emotions and motives. While I certainly feel that additional work on dialogue and characters would benefit, it would make this film far too long to include those necessary elements. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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