I’m late to the party with this review, despite having seen this film in the theater. The idea of entering someone’s dreams… the spinning totem… even the quirks of the orchestral score are all part of the zeitgeist now. But is it actually a good movie?
Oh, yes. Absolutely. It’s incredible.
We’ll start with the cast. There’s not a dud in the bunch. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Marion Cotillard or Dileep Rao… but both do fine here. And everyone else is stellar. This is the film that made me realize that Tom Hardy is a star. This is the first film that gives Leonardo DiCaprio the gravitas of an adult. Ditto Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ditto Ellen Page. Ditto Lukas Haas. Ken Watanabe’s race is (thankfully) irrelevant to his role and performance. Cillian Murphy is not creepy. Pete Postlethwaite is awesome. Tom Berenger is… still acting! And Michael Caine is… well, he’s Michael Caine.
The film looks gorgeous. There’s plenty of wonderful, realistic cinematography, meshed with some mind-bending special effects tied to the dreamscapes the characters build with their minds. But, thankfully, they don’t go so far with the dream imagery that it turns into some kind of greenscreen impressionistic nightmare. It remains nicely grounded the way most dreams really are. (Well, at least mine are.)
The story is the part that is, in some ways, imperfect. I love the idea of “inception”, its difficulty, its importance, and its dangers. (I also love the fact that the marketing before the film did not spoil this idea, leaving the title nicely mysterious.) And I particularly like how they handle the Fischer story. He’s the target for this “dream team”, and he gets pulled into the adventure inside his own dreams… but to him, it’s just that: a dream. He doesn’t come away with any memory of what happened (or the danger he faced). And he does get a chance to (sort of) reconcile with his father. That moment could have been a throwaway. It was the technical point of the movie, of course, but soon enough everything shifts to Cobb and his reconciliation with his dead wife. That they allowed Murphy and Postlethwaite to have, possibly, the most emotionally effecting scene in the film is remarkable.
But, unfortunately, nothing of this complexity (it seems) can be put together without some problems. Here are my biggest gripes:
- Why did they need explosives in the snowy fortress (the third dream level down)? They weren’t planning on going any deeper, so there should have been no need for a kick there.
- If entering a dream state while sedated means that dying in the dream sends you to Limbo… why does dying in Limbo (while still sedated) not send you to Limbo-Squared? Why would Ariadne and Fischer falling off that building not have screwed them that much further?
- If lack of a sense of gravity (free fall) in a level translates to a lack of gravity in the next level down… why don’t they all go flying off the mountain in the snowy fortress sequence?
In any case, these gripes are lost in the awesomeness that is this movie. And, for the record, it wasn’t all a dream. Cobb was reunited with his children.
Ellen Page was in Inception with Tom Hardy. Tom Hardy was in…