Combine an innovative director, idea, and cast. Add to that a story that questions reality, physics defying fight scenes, and wonderful special effects. What do you get? Unfortunately, with Inception, not much.
Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento) directs this complex blockbuster about mental espionage. Using fancy technology, expert thief Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is able to sneak into a subject’s subconscious to steal information. Inception’s plot involves an even more difficult, nigh impossible, assignment: planting an idea. At the behest of the shady Saito (Ken Watanabe), Cobb and his crew plan to give Saito’s economic competitor Fischer (Cillian Murphy) the impulse to dissolve his company. Complicating matters is the projection of Cobb’s dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who violently haunts his every entry into dreamland.
The film is more interested in muddled sequences reminiscent of Tomb Raider than characters. In an attempt to build suspense, scenes move from one shot to another and back ad nauseum.
Nolan’s measured character studies and puzzle-like plots are often superior to his action scenes. But here characters, one of Nolan’s strengths, are subtle to the point of dullness. They come across as mere plot devices. This may be intentional, a metacognitive device, but it doesn’t make our heroes any more interesting.
Slightly unhinged and haunted by a dead wife, Cobb is distractingly reminiscent of DiCaprio’s role in the movie Shutter Island. Cobb’s psychosis isn’t enthralling enough to emotionally anchor the plot. His right hand man Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks smashing but is lifeless. Ellen Page as Ariadne, the dream architect, looks lovely but is likewise uninteresting. Tom Hardy’s Eames is the cheeky but two dimensional “forger” who can change his appearance once in a dream. Watanabe’s Saito is at first mysterious, but ultimately opaque as anyone else. Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the apothecary, is intriguingly amoral – or maybe not; his character is hardly developed. In an unsatisfying part, Murphy, whose subconscious everyone enters, excels. He stands out as the only one who evokes sympathy. Cotillard as the dangerously multifaceted Mal is also excellent.
None of these characters hold many, if any, surprises. In fact, there are few twists in the entire movie , which is bizarre for a Nolan flick. Also unusual for one of his films is a lack of moral exploration. Our protagonists break into someone’s mind. This isn’t really questioned. The cast’s remarkable chemistry makes a lack of humor conspicuous. They all remained so cool, it’s difficult to feel suspense.
Perhaps Inception is difficult “to get.” It’s easy to ask, whose subconscious are they in? How did they get there? Why? What’s at stake? This confusion prevents you from enjoying the film, but the real problem is not caring about the explanation.