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Film review: Inception

Rachel Winterbottom attempts to make sense of DiCaprio's latest adventure of the mind

Written by . Published on July 21st 2010.


Film review: Inception

'The beginning of something, such as an undertaking; a commencement': Google has probably had to tell people that a lot recently. For many, the title was the first obstacle with Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Inception. And that’s just the cherry on the top of a many-layered trifle.

Folding cities, spinning corridors, gravity-less hotels, there are plenty of unique ideas in Inception with just one oversight. Where is the man with the cheese?

Writer/director Nolan, who managed to make Batman and Christian Bale plausible, has produced some slick, intelligent and dark thrillers. He’s already proven an aptitude for mind-bending films with the incredible Memento, deftly twisting his audience’s perceptions and, damn him, actually making them think. Which brings us to Inception.

Prior to its release, the ins and outs of Nolan’s science fiction action thriller-thing Inception have been kept schtum by its stars who have coyly skipped around the subject of plot and merely planted the idea of a storyline in the heads of expectant fans. Baiting curiosity with a few baffling mentions of the architecture of dreams – like a viral marketing campaign of the mind. To give too much away here would risk spoiling these hard-earned preconceptions.

So, to sum: In the near future, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb is a highly skilled extractor who is hired, along with his fellow single-monikered team members, to procure confidential information from the dreams of their marks. The thieves are caught by surprise when their latest mark, Saito (Ken Watanabe, Batman Begins), wants to hire Cobb’s crew to do the near-impossible: inception. And he’s offered Cobb his life and kids back if he takes this One Last Job. But planting an idea is not as easy as stealing one, especially when Saito has just had their main dream architect discreetly removed.

Luckily, this means that Cobb can hire the best student (presumably of architecture) for the job, the insatiably curious Ariadne (Ellen Page, Whip It!). She jumps on the playing-god bandwagon, thrilled by the power of creating worlds. Then Cobb explains the rules and quid pro quo. In dreams, you can get hurt, pain is in the mind after all, but you can’t die. So it’s OK to kill bystanders, though all the murdering may have a negative affect on your psyche. You also can’t alter too much in the dreamer’s mind or their ‘projections’ – the people who populate their dreamscape – will notice your meddling presence and attack. Who knew our subconscious was so trigger happy?

Also folded into the mix is the rising issue of Cobb’s femme fatale dream-stalker, Mal (Marion Cotillard, Nine). Of course, Cobb conducting illicit relations with his subconscious whilst in somebody else’s subconscious is just one of the layers in Nolan’s filmic trifle. This is probably why none of the stars attempted to explain it to the presses; it would have taken approximately 148 minutes.

The dreamscape set pieces are stupendous and the truly astounding special effects are as mind-melting as the plot. Folding cities, spinning corridors, gravity-less hotels, there are plenty of unique ideas in Inception with just one oversight. Where is the man with the cheese? Yes, the subconscious worlds are incredibly detailed and expertly realised but normal dreams don’t follow everyday rules – Nolan could have gone to town with this, and in a sense he did, down town in fact, to the last detail. With no banjo-playing ferret in sight.

DiCaprio is note-perfect as the man who is half there, his only grip on reality the spinning top in his pocket. He exudes anguish as his character slips between worlds, using dreams to escape his growing disconnectedness with a life where even his children exist only as disembodied voices over the phone. Still, Cobb would have benefited from having at least some distinguishing features, if only to avoid the parallels between DiCaprio’s troubled Shutter Island lead.

The brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on form as the whip-thin, stoic Arthur. But like the rest of the team working with DiCaprio’s plot-hogging Cobb, Gordon-Levitt’s character is no more fleshed out than the projections inhabiting the dreamscape. Cillian Murphy also seems slightly wasted as the poor schmuck they’re trying to hack in to. He’s just another bit-player who revolves around Cobb, the centre of this filmic universe.

Page’s Ariadne is a too-convenient plot mechanism for cracking Cobb’s self-torturing subconscious. Page, usually exceptional, is apparently motiveless as Ariadne; she seems only driven by a fervent need to find out exactly what Cobb has locked away inside of him, which is certainly handy for the audience. In some ways, the vacuous cast is a brilliant plot device, fuelling the question of whether it really is all just a dream in Cobb’s grief-stricken mind.

As clever as this film wants to be, there are perhaps too many layers here, with a lacklustre snow scene that lacks the pizazz, style and scope of its predecessors. To his deserved credit Nolan has created an intricate world of possibilities but this is also his downfall. His world has so much that needs explaining, and has so much happening, that it doesn’t have the chance to have any real fun with its own concept. Bring on the cheese.

6/10

Inception is on general release now (12A).

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