Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION : The RevieW

Well I see there is some interest in my previous post on INCEPTION. Several hundred distinct visits in less than 24 hours.

Well as promised… the review.

I just came from the film, a matinee showing, non-imax, but a very good, high-end local theater. They serve crabcakes at the concession stand for goodness sake.

So a pretty darn impressive theater, a full crowd, just about every seat was taken, and a good, erudite, respectful crowd. Large screen, clean theater, impressive sound system…. and all there to see Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION.

The film starts off with waves lapping an uncertain shore, and in many ways ends the same way.

I thought the movie looked very nice, was well shot, had some really effective use of special effects, and had a smart premise. It seemed well performed by the principals, I liked the sometimes humorous interplay between them, and… I think Dicaprio continues his evolution as a solid, bankable leading man.

All that’s on the surface. The problem with the film, a film about going layer upon layer down below the surface, ironically enough, is it never, really engages on an emotional level… on any level beyond the surface. Its very premise, puts the viewer on guard against real and unreal, and therefore makes the film off-putting, and cold and slightly distant.

You are always outside of the film aware of various layers of unreality, which while sound in theory, in practice it means you are always slightly outside of the jeopardy or concern necessary to make you care or concerned about the characters. It means you are always very aware that you are in a theater watching a film, rather than being in any way immersed in that film. At the heart of the film it should be a love story, I mean at its core it should be a tale of loss love, and one man’s obsession with it.

But it is not.

The thing is you come into the film with that love being a ghost, a dead thing, and it never comes alive in the movie. I never really buy or feel the passion between DiCaprio or Marion Cotillard (who plays that lost love). And without that connection, without the viewer feeling that Casablanca level of love, a man’s sacrifice for that love becomes… understood by the mind but not recognized by the heart.

The film keeps what is real at bay, becomes an exercise in philosphy/metaphysics, rather than ever really becoming what all great or even good films desperately need to be… a wrenching, involving aria to the soul.

I can see the beats that Nolan is going for, but the very structure of his film sabotages any real identification with his characters. Any real sense of their peril and their passions.

It has been compared to the MATRIX (though perhaps a more apt comparison, considering the lead, would be to Scorsese’s superior SHUTTER ISLAND, that uses the same crux of that dead love… but in Scorsese’s film you do feel the connection that could fuel such obsession), but that’s just a crude nod to its style and its premise, INCEPTION is a far more sophisticated film than the MATRIX. But it is also a far emptier film. I just wasn’t engaged, it lacked, from first frame to last… heart.

Heart.

That is not to say the film is bad, like I previously stated it looks very good, has some interesting scenes (One thing I really like about Christopher Nolan’s films, is the cast. Is the fact that he peoples his films with not just ‘hot’ actors, but great actors who may no longer be in the limelight or who never got their due, Tom Berenger in the former case and Eric Roberts in the latter), but utimately style without substance is… forgettable.

No, not forgettable… dismissible.

I found the movie, here it has been only a few hours, oddly dismissible.

And if my packed matinee audience is any barometer (“okay”, “exhausting”, “disappointing” being some of the comments I heard from the mostly sedate (sedated?) crowd upon leaving) others found the film perhaps a bit… lacking.

One glaring minus… Ken Watanabe’s dialogue is often very difficult to make out. A lot of the movie hinges on caring about him, so having his dialog clear probably should have been a directorial high point. Nolan has done this in other films, where the dialogue is unintelligible (Batman anyone?) but the explosions sure sound good. 🙂 . Again it comes back to that failing of style over substance. “Who cares what the actors are saying, or if they mumble their lines! Man wasn’t that shot pretty!”

It’s a slightly sloppy work ethic, and unnecessarily sabotages Nolan’s films.

For myself. I’m extremely happy I didn’t pay full price for this film ($8 matinee price) and it is not one I’ll be rewatching in the theater, or picking up the DVD or remembering much after this review. I mean there are things a repeated viewing will give you, but those are just clarifications of the what (discussions of the totem, etc.) but without the emotional impetus of the why, I’m not really interested in exploring the what.

Ultimately the massive hype machine, and massive amount of theaters this is opening in, will make it a money maker (not to the levels of DARK KNIGHT, not even close. I was not a fan of DARK KNIGHT, but I do acknowledge it had some fantastic moments. INCEPTION… not so much), people curious about the insane hype (‘best film of the decade’ ‘INCEPTION may become a religion’ ‘Masterpiece’ ‘Instant Classic’) will plunk down their change.

My recommendation, if like me you don’t drink the Koolaid when it comes to previous Nolan films, is (I’m not going to say not to see the film, curiosity alone dictates you make up your own mind) go for the Matinee, and save yourself a few bucks. And then if you do want to deem it a religion feel free to go back for the ‘IMAX EXPERIENCE’. 🙂 .

But I think most of you reading this will find one viewing more than enough.

Final thoughts? Nolan is a filmmaker who is always trying to challenge the viewing experience, make of it a puzzle, a stepping stone to something other… and that is a worthy goal. I just don’t think he pulls it off. He can craft the puzzle, but bereft of passion, they are excercises rather than films, pitstops rather than destinations.

I almost think Nolan would be a, for me, more satisfying filmmaker if he stopped trying for the “gee! see how clever I am!” gotcha moments (he’s not early Fincher or Shyamalan, he can’t pull it off) and instead just tried to tell a story with heart. I’d rather a filmmaker tell a simple story brilliantly, than a complex story sedately.

Final rating? C-/C+.

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