Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CST does the Oscars: Inception

With the Oscars taking place at the end of this month, Cleveland Sports Torture will be revisiting some of the films nominated for 2011 Best Picture. These reviews may contain spoilers, so reader beware.

“Inception” is a film that sent many of its viewers directly from the theater to the late-night diner across the street to avidly dig into the many mysteries and meanings director Christopher Nolan packed into 148 brain-bending minutes.

Nolan’s high-concept conglomeration of sci-fi, espionage and old fashioned skullduggery certainly works as an “idea movie” - one that questions the nature of our waking lives while suggesting that reality as we understand it is a relative concept. Where “Inception” stumbles is in its attempt to connect a highfalutin hypothesis to interesting characters or a truly compelling story. Peel away the thinky surface and you’re left with the rusty workings of an ordinary and surprisingly dull “one-last-con” flick.

At the center of “Inception’s” maze-like narrative is Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled thief whose area of expertise is invading a target’s subconscious and stealing valuable corporate secrets during the dream state. Cobb is so good at his job that he’s become a target himself of nameless thugs who harry him through exotic locales.

In typical heist movie fashion, Cobb is haunted by his past and carries hazy, regretful memories of the family he was forced to abandon. His predictable opportunity at redemption and reunion comes in the form of a former mark who approaches our gloomy mind thief with the seemingly impossible task of “inception,” whereby he would not be stealing an idea from a person’s head, but literally implanting one.

The formulaic endeavors continue as Cobb forms his team of specialists, including Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architecture student charged with creating the dreamer’s brick-and-mortar world; and Eames (Tom Hardy), a British conman able to change his appearance within dreams, and the only character of the whole lot that seems to be having any fun.

The first two acts of “Inception” are fairly intriguing as Cobb gets the band together and the complex mechanics behind “dream invasion” are neatly parsed. The Escher-like perspective tricks Nolan employs are cool, although some of his computerized visual effects, including an empty dream-city, come off a bit flat and underwhelming. There’s also the annoying matter of Hans Zimmer’s distractingly percussive score which overlays many scenes.

Ultimately, “Inception” is an imaginative pen-and-paper premise but with all the elusive substance of a half-remembered dream. Ninety minutes of ain’t-that-cool exposition act as a cosmetic that covers the lack of any real character development. The bombastic, action-heavy final hour suffers as a result, and quickly becomes a dreary exercise where it’s difficult to care about dreams within dreams and discerning exactly which character’s mind-movies we’re actually watching.

Any film that engenders as much discussion as “Inception” has is a good thing for the industry. It’s just a shame that there’s not much here outside of a really interesting idea.