By Tony Macklin
“Inception” is a slick, spasmodic, rambunctious ordeal. It’s a convoluted wild goose/dream chase.
It’s stylistically audacious, but the content lags far behind. Even though it’s been promoted as a movie for the brain, “Inception” is much more a movie for the eyes.
As Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his intrepid allies try to manipulate dreams, what is their goal? Could it be to try to discover the secret of life? Hardly.
It pretty much comes down to Dom’s wanting to see the faces of his two young children. That’s a nice, comforting thought, but is it worth 21⁄2 hours of dream confusion, crises and conflagrations?
It reminds me of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” (1983) desperately decoding his ring to reveal the answer, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”
“Inception” is the story of how Dom Cobb, who illegally extracts dreams for a living, is enlisted by a Japanese energy businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), to invade the dreams of the son of a competing energy tycoon. The father is on his deathbed, and the son (Cillian Murphy) is about to inherit his empire.
Saito wants Cobb to do an inception, which is to put an idea into his young rival’s mind to make him break up his empire. This can be accomplished by the risky, unperfected concept of placing the idea into the mind by way of three levels of dreams — a dream within a dream within a dream. Limbo is a fourth level of dream.
Cobb can’t return to America because he is wanted by the law for something he did in the past. Saito promises Cobb to have the charges dropped if he can process a successful inception.
Cobb’s father (Michael Caine) introduces his son to Ariadne (Ellen Page), a precocious dream architect who can help him. But Cobb’s wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), is a threat — for a reason we eventually find out — who keeps destructively appearing in his dreams.
Cobb and his gang become fierce dream weavers in a dangerous quest.
Director/writer Chris Nolan is more stylistic necromancer than magical artist. Nolan has been given license to play a vast, self-indulgent game, and he zealously wallows in it.
Probably people who dream the least will be most impressed by the movie. It’s more “imagination” than real imagination. It throws dreams against the screen to see what will stick.
“Inception” is a glittering thimble. Dom says about Mal, “The thimble became her reality.” It’s shtick wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pizza.
“Inception” is a Wachowski Brothers film that turns into a James Bond movie that turns into a Lifetime special. That Watanabe has makeup reminiscent of Keir Dullea’s aged figure in “2001: A Space Odyssey” does not make it a Stanley Kubrick movie.
The cast of “Inception” is excellent as they run with heedless energy. DiCaprio is appropriately sensitive as the guilt-ridden dream extractor. Page is appealing, as always, as the conscience of the film.
Watanabe and Murphy are convincing as the two willful businessmen. And although his role is not equal to his talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is able as Cobb’s man of action.
Marion Cotillard is merely acceptable in the key role as Mal, but she is not haunting. Alfred Hitchcock would have made her haunting.
“Inception” is a diverting gambit, but you might want to check your watch a few times to see when the dreams are going to be over.
Do the dreams continue?
Spin, Chris, spin. Clatter. Clatter. Clatter.
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.
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