Feb 6, 2011
It is with a heavy heart that I have to report that Christopher Nolan's latest exhibits one of the great schisms between grand intentions and inept executions to be seen at the movies in recent years. Only someone who never saw (or appreciated) Dark City would be able to call it visionary (or Paprika, or Heat, or Blade Runner, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Solaris [either one], or, uhm, The Matrix... should I go on?), as Nolan's long-gestating science fiction opus (he first conceived of it as a teenager) rarely rises above its own apparent reliance on these influences. Visually, they're the only thing that stands out from the film's enslavement to one of the more redundant and unmelodious scripts to ever grace a big budget film. In the year of The Social Network's dialectic melodies, Inception is even more blatantly like nails on chalkboard. By distilling the film to its key money shots, the preview was a rush. The movie entire is mostly a snooze.
Nolan's core concept -- that a synthetic dreamland might give way to the raging subconscious of a tortured man -- is as conceptually appetizing as those similarly mind-fucky plots of the aforementioned films. It is tragic, then, that about 90%+ of Inception's running time feels like flight preparation; the stewardess, as she is, never shuts up. And here, she's every single one of the characters, a term I use loosely; mostly, they're ciphers for information, nothing more. Nolan's script seems scared shitless of letting the audience wonder about much of anything, less they get "bored." And so, it spends most of the time bending over backwards telling you things it might have far more creatively shown to you, or when it shows them to you, it usually tells you anyway, etc. The aforementioned Matrix might paint in similarly obvious strokes at times ("Trinity" is a blatant metaphor, sure, but "Mal" should make cringe anyone who holds language sacred), but it's also beautifully stylized, consistently visually inventive, and presented as a great genre tease; it peels away the layers with titillating ease. In contrast, Inception talks at you ad nausea for nearly three hours, expects food market and architectural farts to blow your mind (the lame M.C. Escher shout-outs are the real kicker for me; one man's paradox is another's retarded staircase), and holds your hand as it walks with you through supposed dreamscapes (droll city skylines that are at best casually surreal; where's Lynch when you need him?). I can only speak for myself, but this is exactly the kind of movie where I'd rather be lost, at least for a bit. That would be interesting.
The heist sequences, when they come, are something close to exciting, but that's mostly the attention-demanding score at work, and although a zero gravity Joseph Gordon-Levitt kicking ass is surely a beautiful thing, the overwhelmingly realistic presentation of the dreamland would seem to counter the reason for taking us into the dreamland in the first place (I'll take Neveldine/Taylor's Gamer, thank you, or David Cronenberg's eXistenZ). Otherwise, only a handful of shots transcend this leaden, literal approach into something sensual and poetic, and about half of those include a van in slow motion, turning corners and such. I've seen the film three times now; the first, on opening weekend, benefited of being fresh, though it still ultimately gave me blue balls; the second, at a drive-in, from the rule that any movie is enjoyable at a drive-in; the third, on a home system, was a suffocating slog. Even Oscar should feel disgraced by this fraud (the last shot might not be such a cheat if the preceding psychobabble wasn't such meaningless lip service). Leonardo DiCaprio starred in two "big" movies in 2010. Forget Inception; Shutter Island is actually worth a damn, and then some.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine 2010, Rated PG-13, 142 minutes
Labels: blog reviews