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Movie Review: Inception

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In a summer of dumb, “turn your brain off blockbusters,” Inception asks you to think. It asks that rare thing of a summer escapism movie by asking you to engage with it instead of just letting it pass you by.

The film still offers its own brand of unique action, thrilling shootouts and car chases and, to use an example, a peculiar yet visually arresting fight scene in a hallway with zero gravity that is surely one of the most memorable of the years. And there’s all the jaw-dropping special effects you could hope for, without going overboard and stepping into Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) territory.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan knows how to handle the action, how much to focus on and how. In perhaps his most conceptually complicated film to date (that’s even counting Memento, still his best work): he takes the basic idea of entering people’s dreams and takes it to a second, then third and eventually a fourth level until, just like the subjects of the dreams, you get to the point where you’re not sure what’s really the reality of the story.

The plot follows Dom Cobb who, along with a team of other specialists, can enter into people’s dreams and both extract or implant information (or in the latter case, an idea).

That’s all you should really know about specific plot details as this is a film you’re best going into knowing as little as possible. It will make the experience all the more satisfying and keep you guessing like you should, right up until the end (and beyond).

The film has a cast that most other director’s would give their right arm for, from the always intense DiCaprio and the incomparable Joseph-Gordon Levitt to the suave, magnetic Tom Hardy and the ever watchable and rather brilliant Ellen Page. But the film – and this could be construed as negative, although not in the opinion of this reviewer – is more of an ensemble performance piece rather than one of any individual performance. It works best when the characters are playing off of one another – bouncing that wonderful dialogue of Nolan’s back and forth – rather in any scene where they may be doing the heavy lifting on their own.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I have to stop short of calling Inception a masterpiece as many have classified it. Perhaps it’s the sometimes heavy reliance on explanations and exposition to clue viewers in certain vital things. Maybe that was to be entirely expected considering that it cost well over $150 million to make – the studio needs to make its money back, after all (even if Nolan did deliver a billion dollar Batman movie with The Dark Knight).

Or perhaps it was down to the sheer amount of things happening all at once. The film does a very good job of making it all make sense within itself but in the actual experience of watching it it’s like a freight train that just keeps hurtling forward. And if you’re not perpared to do the leg work to keep up with it then you’re going to be left behind. I have a feeling this will be one of those films that will need to be rewatched quite a few times to get every little nuance. And perhaps that will eradicate some of the issues I had with it. 

Both a positive and a negative is that half the time while I was watching the film I was trying to work out the sheer technicality of it all, not just within the context of the story but just how in the world certain things were filmed. On a technical level the film is fascinating just to ponder never mind experience. I can’t even begin to imagine how Nolan managed to write such a complicated narrative and make it simply function correctly much less be genuinely entertaining.

What’s very satisfying to know is that Inception is a true original piece of work. Sure, the similarities to The Matrix (even in the basic plot and the mechanics of how the dream manipulation works) are undeniable. But this isn’t a sequel, remake, reboot, adaptation or anything else of that nature. It shows that in a movie industry so often devoid of originality these days, there are still unique and original ideas out there.

Inception might not be the absolute masterpiece it has been labelled as, but perhaps it was unfair for anyone to expect it to be in the first place. It’s still wildly inventive, fiendishly clever, often awe-inspiring and almost always entertaining. It takes the notion of the summer blockbuster and twists it, proving that this busiest of movie going seasons doesn’t have to be about switching your brain off or leaving it at the door. Inception does quite the opposite. It engages you, it keeps your attention and above all it makes you think. Don’t all the truly great movies?


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About Ross Miller