Clever Is As Clever Does
Inception is in love with its own cleverness, a fascinating movie that aims high and often delivers, but could have been much more if greater quantities of surprise and emotion had been added to the mix.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of mind bandits invade dreams and steal secrets. It’s a game of corporate espionage as presented by writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) in this highly anticipated summer flick.
The Dream Team has two players who stand out. Tom Hardy is Eames, the forger. His distinctive voice, slightly disheveled appearance and odd way of carrying himself make you take note and watch his every move, listen to his every word.
As Cobb’s right hand man Arthur, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days Of Summer) is steady and calm, pulling off the film’s most impressive feat in a spectacular sequence, defying gravity and making a human sandwich of several compatriots, floating them into an elevator shaft so he can “kick” them awake from the dream (within a dream) that has them all unconscious.
As the crew goes about their business, Cobb’s dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) pops up in every dream he enters, interfering with their work. Cotillard and the remaining cast are solid, especially Ken Watanabe as Saito, the corporate chief who hires the crew and joins the team, and Cillian Murphy, the team’s unwitting target and son of Saito’s competitor.
Cobb’s struggle to leave Mal behind is the emotional center of the film, with DiCaprio playing a tortured soul, similar to his work in Shutter Island. But like Mal herself, the scenes of Cobb dealing with his dead wife often feel like an intruder, pulling us away from intrguing set-ups and pulse-pounding action as the Dream Team connives its way into their target’s subconscious, trying this time not to steal information, but to plant the seed of an idea within his mind (inception!).
Only Ellen Page (spectacular in Juno and solid in other roles) seems miscast as Ariadne, the Dream Team’s newest member, an architect who designs the dreamscapes in which the team does their work. It doesn’t help that her character is underwritten, providing little back story to explain her formidable talents, including her unusual insight into Cobb’s personal history. Woman’s intuition, I guess.
Despite its faults, Inception engages from start to finish with visual mastery, a powerful score and technical film-making of the highest level. An intricate film with many layers (dreams within dreams within dreams), it’s an amazing feat that the movie is relatively easy to follow. One moment we’re in the real world, the next inside a dream, the next inside a different dream, with a simple cut doing the trick, visual or verbal cues smoothing the transition.
The film tackles big topics – the subconscious and its interaction with our deepest secrets, the nature of reality in a world of manufactured dreams – and comes across intelligent and thoughtful. It may not have all the answers but when most films, especially summer blockbusters, have the depth of a paper napkin, the fact that Inception tries for more is one of its greatest strengths.
But while the movie aims high, is fast paced and does a great job making a complex story understandable, there are precious few surprises along the way. It’s as if Nolan, recognizing how complex the story was, spent all his effort constructing the tale for audience accessibility, and forgot that sometimes we don’t need to know what’s going on, that twists and turns jolt as much as action and intrigue. A maze has been constructed for our enjoyment, a fascinating story with many layers, but we’ve been placed above the puzzle, a vantage point from which we witness the entire creation, when half the fun is getting lost within its borders.
If I were dreaming a more perfect Inception, I’d be happily asleep, my subconscious supplying a movie that revealed less, jarred more with unexpected moves and offered deeper personal relationships among the team members.
A film like that would be . . . well . . . downright clever.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page
Directed by Christopher Nolan