In part I below, I set out to discuss the good aspects of Inception, but then realized that I only discussed one good aspect of it and failed to hit on some of the finer points that warrant praise. So after I discuss what I didn’t like, I’ll compliment sandwich the film, ending on some good notes.
I’m not sure whether or not this was intentional, but the only character in the film that had more than one dimension was Dom Cobb, the main character (although it’s arguable that Mal, his wife, had more than one dimension, we only really see one side of her since she is a projection of Dom’s subconscious). All of the other characters seem to fill the screen like some sort of Hollywood paint-by-numbers: the sidekick who questions the main character’s ability to not let his personal life get in the way, the young protégé who asks all the questions, and of course, the token foreigner in charge of the mystic sedatives. This would have been fine if we actually got to explore their characters a little further, but as it stands they end up being no more than set props to help play out the narrative.
A lot of reviews are raving about Hanz Zimmer’s score, and yes, it is really good. However, another problem I have is not with the score itself, but how it is used. As in The Dark Knight, Nolan doesn’t take a break from the score for the entire third act of the film, slowly building its crescendo throughout, so that by the end all we get are 20 minutes worth of thunderous trombones. Like I said, the score is good but I’m not really sure why it had to be used in this way.
As with many movies, there is a personal aspect to the equation, and I will fully admit that 10% of any of my problems with this film can be attributed to that.
See, if I had to come up with a top-5 list for reasons I got into film, Chris Nolan’s Memento would unquestionably be on the list. I remember thinking the first time I watched that film at age 16 how original and new it seemed to me; and that if movies like that could be made, then the possibilities for artistry in the film medium were endless.
To me, his success with The Dark Knight and now Inception can be likened to a band that you liked before any of your friends knew about them—maybe their first album was raw, but the music was personal to you because of the band’s relative anonymity. Once the band got popular, produced a polished-studio album, and had their hits played all over the radio, you still enjoyed the music but it was a totally different experience. The romance was somehow sucked out of it. Well, it’s difficult for me to not feel this way about Nolan. I obviously enjoy his recent films, but part of me wishes that at some point he’d trade in a Hollywood blockbuster in for a scaled back character-driven piece—that he’d summon his inner Hitchcock instead of his inner Spielberg. Maybe it’s the film-snob in me, but I believe that’s where his A+ talents lie. Surely he’s got something as good as Memento up his sleeve, right? I guess the good news is that either way, he’s made seven films now and there’s not a dud in the bunch, so even if he sticks with the Hollywood-esque grandiose films, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to see a great film with him at the helm.
Some more good that I didn’t hit on: the acting is superb (although I wish Ken Wantanabe would learn to speak English a bit better). I wouldn’t call this a career performance for Leo, but he definitely carries the film effortlessly. Joseph Gordon Levitt gives us a side that we haven’t seen of him yet in his role, and I’m very excited to see where his career will go after the success of this and 500 Days of Summer. I also really enjoyed Tom Hardy in his role, as well as Cillian Murphy as the “target” of the Inception. Given that the characters weren’t extremely well-written, I was impressed. As I said earlier, the score was great and added the necessary tension. The aesthetics of the film were obviously amazing: production design, cinematography, costumes and even make-up were all really well-done. Nolan tends to work with the same people over and over in these areas (including actors) and it is clear that they have become a well-oiled machine.
Full disclosure: I have no idea how to end this post. This and my last posts are unequivocally the most difficult and frustrating posts I’ve worked on since starting up this blog. There are so many elements and angles to explore, and there is simply no coherent way that I can put it together. I suck. The magnitude of Inception is almost too much for even a real film critic to get a handle on, much less mainstream audiences and wannabe bloggers.
And maybe that, above anything, should tell you all you really need to know about 2010’s Inception.