Monday, July 19, 2010

Hyperbole Ahoy! Rickey Reviews "Inception"

"Inception" is at once the best movie you'll see all summer, yet the most flawed as well. The movie boasts a wildly imaginative concept that's executed to near perfection from a storytelling point of view. However, the visual tableau in which the plot moves forward falls flat in a few places. The movie's ideas are intensely cerebral, but it lacks much of the necessary presentation to compliment it. At the very least however, this is a thought provoking and fast moving flick that is definitely guaranteed to kick your brain into overdrive for two and half hours. If "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" can claim the same, we'd be more than a little shocked.

The basic overarching plot is deceptively simple: it's a heist movie. Leonardo DiCaprio and a gang of thieves dive into the mind of a powerful industrialist in order to dissolve his energy company and thereby better the welfare of his competitors and humanity as a whole (hey, why can't we do this with BP?) But the way Leo accomplishes it and the manner in which it is explained and performed cinematically is what catapults this movie on to another level entirely. The movie unfolds on a level that we, as moviegoers, haven't had the pleasure of experiencing until now.

In order to pull off the heist, DiCaprio's character Cobb recruits various specialists and then plunges head first into the dream. The underlying science behind is left intentionally unexplained, which is OK with us--this is more of a fantasy movie than a sci-fi one. Cobb's plan is to plant the suggestion to dissolve his empire in the billionaire's head by plummeting into three consecutively deeper planes of his dream state and using the target's deep rooted father issues as leverage. Things go wrong when the team arrives in the dream to discover that the target has prepared for this mental invasion by "militarizing his subconscious" (best. line. ever.) and then the rest of the flick becomes a frantic scramble spanning around multiple layers of consciousness, some scenes constrained by gravity, some not. "We have to go deep" is a common refrain throughout the film, as Cobb's tenuous grip on reality grows shakier the deeper he travels.

Three nested levels of dreaming, unfold simultaneously at different paces, with characters running around about on each level. Each level's time progresses at a different speed. Absolutely nothing like this has been put on film before. Watching it all intricately unfold, crumble, and finally synchronize up again, we can't help but assume that Nolan played his fair share of three-dimensional chess in his younger days. The heist is absolutely brilliant, it occupies two thirds of the film, and the idea alone is well worth the $10 ticket price for this movie. Words simply can't do justice to the complexity that unfolds before your eyes. The movie is a testament to what cinema can convey.

The big problem is the visual execution. The gritty urban realism that director Chris Nolan perfected in his Batman movies doesn't serve him as well in a surreal movie about dreams. More than anything else, this is a movie about big crazy ideas, and either you're willing to forego normal cinematic conventions in order to get your brain tickled for two and a half hours or you're not. Rickey was cool with it, but some of you might not be. Don't get Rickey wrong, this is a terrific movie--easily the best of the summer, but it could've been even better if it took a bit more of an artistic leap.

At one point, Rickey said to himself, "hey, this is a dream, so why don't they just grow wings and fly around?" Sure, it sounds silly at first, but think about it. We're in the dream world here, so why not venture into the realm of the fantastic? When we dream, can't most of us do a little better than dreary Chicago in the rain? Isn't there more most of us could dream up than characters chasing each other around a dimly lit hotel? To it's credit, the movie pays scattered homage to other great dreamers such as Escher and Kubrick in many shots but when it comes to the third level of the mark's subconscious, a wintry snow scene, Nolan completely dodges the obvious shout out: Hitchcock and Salvador Dali's collaboration on the ski run scene in "Spellbound." Instead, we are bombarded with a James Bond style shoot out featuring fireballs and snowmobiles. Not quite as profound...

The obvious explanation for this restrained (and arguably unimaginative) take on dreams is that asking the audience to delve even deeper into the realm of the imaginary when they're already tracking three concurrent dreamlines is pretty demanding. Warner Brothers didn't spend $200 million to completely alienate their viewership and create more of an art house flick than a summer tent pole movie. We get that. Still, Rickey was ready to make the leap with them on this one and was left wanting when the visuals didn't match the trippy ideas the film traffics in.

But these are minor issues given the overall wonderment and awe this movie provides. And then there's the film's ending, which will probably go down in history as one of the most polarizing to date. "Inception" is very much a movie that asks you to make a decision about what you've just seen. Rickey's leaving this review purposfully light on spoilers, but for people who saw it, we'd love to discuss what you thought of the film's final shot in the comments section.

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Statler said...

So, here's what got me. Why attempt to set up a canon of rules about dream-spelunking and then shamelessly violate those rules? Why not just leave it mysterious? I know I'm being the uber-inconsistency nerd here, but here's what got me:

Characters are weightless in level one b/c they're in freefall. Therefore, they are weightless in level two as well. But that weightlessness doesn't translate to level three. Why?

To be clear, I'm mostly pissed about this because it was a wasted opportunity to have a zero-g alpine base-storming gun fight, as opposed to the vanilla James Bond circa 1979 action we got instead.

Smitty said...

Gonna go see the film this week. can't wait...and now I know I won't be wasting my money.

hanum said...

cool action movie ^^. Like this!