First impressions? There’s a lot to like about INCEPTION. It’s a beautifully shot film. There’s a softness to the whole thing, granted, but that diffusion is offset by some really strong design and composition. It’s just really neat to watch on the big screen, although I suspect it will be just as strong in the home theater. Performances are pretty solid, with DiCaprio, Page and Tom Hardy being the stand-outs for me anyway. The concept behind the film is fun and feels fresh, and there are chunks of it that are just exhilarating (I would have gladly sat through the Dancing On The Ceiling fight for another 30 minutes, it’s that goofy).

Having said that, the movie ultimately suffers in two areas: the script and the direction.

I know many are proclaiming INCEPTION to be Nolan’s masterpiece – hell, some folks are calling it a cinematic masterpiece in in general – but I think these folks are confusing quantity of concept with quality of execution. It’s understandable that people can be overwhelmed by so much information that they’re no longer able to discern genius from bullshit; it happened with THE MATRIX as well. While there’s something to be said for a filmmaker that tries to layer something fresh and somewhat artful over the tried-and-true heist film structure, Nolan really fails to pull it off as elegantly or stylishly as I would have hoped. Even overlooking the floods of expository dialogue, which are a well-established part of both high-concept sci-fi and the “big heist” movie genres, the script is filled with inconsistencies, laps in logic, and some very odd, and for me, baffling structural problems. It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling some pretty big moments, but I will say most of my issues fall in third act. There are revelations and developments that are only unexpected if you haven’t been paying attention – like, at all – which wouldn’t be a problem if so much of the dramatic thrust of the final act didn’t depend on the resonance these beats have for the characters involved; it undercuts the dramatic intensity considerably that these moments aren’t nearly as clever or shocking as they need to be. Finally, the film relies on a basic heist-picture conceit, but Nolan loses control over this element; plans are loose and goals are vague. I’m a big fan of heist movies and for me this component of INCEPTION’s plot really suffers.

None of this would be fatal if Nolan’s direction went the distance. Not to say it’s flimsy or slack, but there are some sequences where he simply goes through the motions. I think it’s easy to overlook some of this because there are so many scenes in the film that really shine, but I’m frankly confused how anyone could claim this is, from a filmmaking perspective, even as consistently strong as MEMENTO, INSOMNIA, or THE PRESTIGE. Again, a lot of the film’s pacing problems can be laid at the feet of Nolan the script-writer, so it’s hard to see how many of the issues I had with beats here and there are due to structure or are due to editing of the visual narrative. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Hans Zimmer’s score, which is so strong that I think it masks a lot of Nolan’s sketchier bits and gives them a heft and bravado that isn’t necessarily there on the screen.

Ultimately, for me anyway, INCEPTION is a challenging movie to consider critically – a lot of it works, but there are moments that are either just flat or borderline shoddy. It’s a movie I look forward to dissecting in conversation with other people who love movies, because there’s no doubt in my mind that everyone who sees it will walk away feeling differently about it. It’s a rich film, filled with intriguing ideas and some really breath-taking set-pieces, and its faults make it a more interesting film.

If you want to discuss specifics or spoilers, we can do so in the comments.
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1 Comment

  1. Natalie

     /  August 10, 2010

    I just went to the cinema 3 days ago for Inception, just read your review and I myself just finished a short review on it. Please come check it out so that we could discuss this movie.


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