July 27, 2010

Guys Movie Night: Inception


Maybe it's because I barely made it to the theater in time.
Maybe because I was famished.
Maybe my full bladder is to blame.
The summer movie I had the highest hopes for did NOT blow me away.
Inception was really good, yes. A expertly crafted, thoughtful, intelligent movie which is about something. The rare non-sequel, non-comic-book, non-animated summer movie. But I did not receive the emotional whallop, or even the visceral "whoa" I was anticipating.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the leader of a team of con men. Instead of stealing money from their mark, they steal ideas by playing the mark within his own subconscious, where he's more vulnerable.
Entering an individual's dreams is a lot like The Matrix: you lie down, plug into a magic box, and BOOM, you're in the land of special effects. In order to escape, there's no pay phones to help you; you have to either die in the dream, or your sleeping body (back in the real world) needs a "kick" to jolt you awake.
Cobb risks everything on "one last score", the classic "it can't be done" scenario: their client needs them to plant an idea in the mark's mind, instead of stealing one. There are no secrets in the dreamer's mind: that's why the team is there. When you insert yourself into the land of the subconscious, your secrets come with you. Cobb's dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) haunts him and threatens them all.
The cast was excellent all around. I have a lot of respect for DiCaprio, even if I want him to shave off that 2-day goatee.
Ellen Page is the novice who discovers Cobb's secret and to whom the workings of the dream world is explained. She's a solid presence in this movie, and a purely dramatic, non-ironic role too.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Cobb's right-hand man, trying to keep Cobb rational. It's a pretty thankless role, until his showpiece weightless fight scenes.
Apparently, I have seen Tom Hardy in several movies (Marie Antoinette, Layer Cake, Star Trek: Nemesis) but I have no memory of him. I was riveted by his cocky, mouthy "forger", who skirts the edge of loyalty with his willful aggressiveness.
Director Christopher Nolan is a master at multi-layer, puzzle box movies which eschew linear narrative.  Memento's plot is in reverse. The Prestige includes flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. Inception's epic second half is the big con, with four adventures happening at once: The chemist is in a car chase, Cobb's right-hand man fights henchmen while floating down a zero-gee corridor, the Forger battles phantom soldiers on skis, and Cobb confronts his own obsessive guilt over his wife's death. These four adventures are happening in four nested dream-worlds, with each character asleep in the world "above". When the sleeper's environment is disturbed (rain, or music, or riding aboard an Econoline van during a gun battle), the sensory input bleeds into the dream. In Memento and The Prestige, the structure perfectly serves the themes of the movie, but with Inception, the structure is still supremely clever, organic, and perfectly executed, but doesn't purely enhance the theme of the film in the same way.
Nolan and his cast make a strong effort to make the doomed love story the core of the movie, but it just didn't resonate with me. Perhaps it's because we never see Cobb's and his wife truly in love, except for brief, shallow glimpses. Mal's "character" in the movie is a femme fatale, comprised of walking and talking memories from Cobb's mind, or flashbacks of their life together, which amounts to the same thing. We don't get much of a chance to see the real woman, and we see a lot of Cobb's guilt over her death incarnated in Mal, so it's hard to feel loss for a "woman" who scares the shit out of the audience repeatedly.
I was a little distracted by some references to the cast and their previous movies:
  • Cillian Murphy: Wears a bag on his head, like his Scarecrow
  • Ken Wantanabe: In one of the dreams, he's crushed by a beam falling from the ceiling, like Ras Al Guhl in Batman Begins
  • Marion Cotillard: Edith Piaf music is prominently featured; Cotillard won an Oscar playing Piaf
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: Washes up on a beach like Jack Dawson in Titanic 2: Never Let Me Go (okay I made that one up)
The first two I found actively distracting, the third might have bothered me if I had known it was Piaf on the soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, Hans Zimmer's score (loud, brassy, single notes, sustained for 15 seconds each) was a little too reminiscent of his Dark Knight score.
And for those of you who are angry or stressed about the final scene of the movie, all I will say is, a note of ambiguity is necessary in a movie where we never know for sure what reality is, and if the movie had resolved with a purely decisive happy ending, it would have felt pat and fake.Nolan has made two highly profitable Batman movies for Warner Bros. He's earned the right to make a complex, dark meditation on death, dreams, and the subconscious. It didn't hit me in the gut: I'm giving Inception a B-plus, but I may give the movie another chance. I paid $11.50 the first time, will I do it again? With Jon, Jack, Jeff, and Marc, at Regal Cinemas Stadium 13 (Screen 13)