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USA 2010
Directed by
Christopher Nolan
148 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an industrial spy of a very different sort. He sneaks into people’s dreams and steals their secrets in a process called “Extraction”. When a job to steal the secrets of business mogul Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong the latter offers him a deal - to plant an idea inside a target’s mind, in a process called “Inception”.

Although the core idea of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s film, that reality is a construct of our subjectivities, is an intriguing one whether his big-budget chase-thriller screenplay develops it in a coherent way I am not so sure. Being Nolan, a director known for bringing solid  intelligence to the action film one assumes that his plot actually made sense on paper (apparently, depending on who you read, it took him eight or ten years to write the screenplay) but his slick film is so frenetically paced and disorientingly cut-up by editor Lee Smith that one tends to wonder if the narrative, visual and physical gymnastics are intended to blow-off the relatively simplistic premise of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1989) and up the ante on his own first stab at a mind-bender Memento (2001) but in themselves are little more than a smoke-screen.

The problem with Inception it would seem comes from the attempt to marry the kind of esoteric Byzantine convolutions brought to the screen by Charlie Kaufman in Synecdoche, New York (2008) with the crowd-pleasing antics of the action spectacular, well exemplified by Nolan's own Dark Knight films. The result is that we are both intrigued by a dream within a dream within a dream  conundrum that requires close attention and bombarded with the visceral thrills of the high-end action movie – explosions, gun battles, punch-ups and car chases and so on, that do not. The latter are exciting but formulaic, the former challenging but lost in a hyper-kinetic blur accompanied by Hans Zimmer's thundering score and tricked out with genre-typical hipster banter as our plucky, infinitely resourced, globe-hopping team undertake their apparently impossible mission.

Whilst Nolan carries all this off with the logistical prowess we have come to expect from him most viewers will be struggling to fit the parts of his puzzle together in the allotted time, holding a growing roster of questions in abeyance while trying to follow the plot as it races forward. How much of an obstacle this is be will dependent on the individual viewer but there are also worrying aspects to Nolan’s execution.

Most prominent is the casting of Ellen Page as the dream architect. She was a pip as the sassy pregnant high-schooler in Juno (2007) but is wrong on every level here. And really, did she have to be called Ariadne, the famous lady of the Minotour’s maze in Greek mythology?  Boy-next-door type Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also too slight to convince in this kind of high stakes rough-and-tumble. One wonders if their casting was an attempt to capture a younger audience. DiCaprio, almost needless to say, although relatively young brings some gravitas to the team and Cotillard is effective as his wife (although one wonders if her  name “Mal”, the French word for “bad” is another signal from Nolan as presumably Tom Hardy’s Eames is a reference to the 20th century industrial designer) in the grounding sub-plot involving Cobb’s marriage. Additional players are Cillian Murphy (another casting question mark), Tom Berenger, Ken Watanabe and a couple of minutes of Batman's butler Michael Caine as Cobb's father-in-law.

Part conceptual puzzle, part theme park ride Inception is definitely worth the effort and I’m sure many will ear-mark it for a re-watch it once the dust has settled on their confusion.

FYI: If you take the first letters of the main characters' names - Dom, Robert, Eames, Arthur, Mal and Saito they spell "Dreams". If you add Peter, Ariadne and Yusuf, you get "Dreams Pay". .




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