"Insert Flap A And Throw Away"
INCEPTION is the latest gloom-a-thon from America's favorite purveyor of bloated bummers, Christopher Nolan, up to now the man most famous for leeching all entertainment value from the Batman franchise in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. As even the doorknobs must know by now, INCEPTION follows a group of dream technicians (or does it?) led by Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who take the assignment of planting an idea in the head of the heir to a big corporation (or do they?). To do this, they have to enter dream states themselves (or do they?), which has risks, most notably in the form of DiCaprio's late wife Mal, played by the magnificent Marion Cotillard, who seems to have a bit of a grudge against her husband, for reasons which become clear.
Or do they?
INCEPTION, or as I've started to think of it, INFECTION, is yet another in an apparently endless series of puzzle movies that keep getting churned out with appalling regularity, and is in fact the second one this year, after Scorsese's equally tiresome SHUTTER ISLAND. Where SHUTTER ISLAND kept the energy high with a parade of wackadoo plot twists and a manic High-Gothic style culminating in the Big Surprise That Was Neither A Surprise Nor Big, INCEPTION goes for a Chinese box/Russian nesting doll kind of narrative where, all together now, Nothing Is As It Seems. Except, of course, When It Is What It Seems.
And Maybe Even Then..
Unless Of Course...
The whole movie is like that. Look, folks, I have nothing against a good solid mindfuck. But INCEPTION is neither good, nor much of a mindfuck. I think that my mind would have been more readily fucked by this film if, quite simply, I had given a good goddamn about anyone or anything in it. Nolan spends a lot of time describing in chemistry-killing detail the terribly elaborate rules of the dream world(s) the film is going to occupy, and this dialogue, while admirably clear, isn't leavened by any humor or wit or even basic human warmth, which means that fine actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt start to sound like they're reading from tech manuals rather than communicating with other people. The fact is that despite the actors' best efforts, the characters remain resolutely two-dimensional, with Marion Cotillard's Mal being the single memorable exception, and it just became impossible for me to take much interest in the assorted cliff hangers and plot twists and set pieces as a result.
And I can't say that the device of the dream stuff really adds much to the movie, except about $170 million in CGI costs and the tedious level of Is It Real ambiguity that seems more designed to keep message boards and study halls buzzing for the rest of the summer than anything else. This film could have been made without the dream stuff, and we'd have had a tight corporate espionage thriller instead of the bloated episode of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE tarted up with fancy CGI that we're stuck with. Basically, the dream stuff doesn't really add as much to the film as it really should, except to complicate the story and the storytelling needlessly.
And the dreams on display are rather tiresome affairs. It is established with typical clarity that the dreams the team enters have all been carefully arranged for maximum reality, so there's no danger of sudden eruptions of sexual energy (never ever an issue in a Nolan film anyway) or sudden bits of strange unexplained subconscious dream stuff, which pretty much cuts the balls off the whole dream thing from the getgo, as far as I'm concerned. Why bother setting most or even all of a movie inside dreams if things aren't going to go fucking berserk once in a while?
Well, whatever Nolan wants, Nolan gets, as controlled and ultimately boring as it is. And you know, I think I'd even have been willing to go with the flow, or at least found the film less of an ordeal, if the film wasn't sunk by Christopher Nolan's suffocating seriousness, the solemnity bordering on pretentiousness that sends his work time and again, as in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, straight to the bottom of the ocean. Make no mistake: INCEPTION is a Serious Film here, one that deals with Big Ideas about Reality and Dreams and the Unconscious and Levels of Dreams and stuff like that. All of this is brought to the screen via plodding lifeless storytelling and by Serious Points that never for a moment convince except when they involve Marion Cotillard. Far greater and far more entertaining movies have played with these same themes without collapsing under their own tedious weight. See Gilliam's BRAZIL or TWELVE MONKEYS for films that, whatever their own problems, are made with wit and energy and most importantly a sense of LIFE that Christopher Nolan, for all of his technical brilliance, shows no interest in whatsoever. Nolan's films are D.O.A., and INCEPTION is the deadest of them all.