Writer/director Christopher Nolan continues his run of successful films (such as Memento, Insomnia, and The Dark Knight) with Inception, a film of breath-taking visual ingenuity and exciting action. If you have yet to see Inception I highly recommend avoiding any further information about it and just go see it. This is a film that is best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible.
For those that have seen the film I am sure you will agree it is a resounding visual and conceptual success. Nolan has managed to create a world which builds on our shared experiences with dreams and makes them fully realised worlds with rules that make sense while also allowing for incredible experiences.
The visual elements of the film come together perfectly. The films design (set, costume, and makeup) feels unique while being cohesive. It appears to combine film noir with science fiction and does so to great effect. The special effects throughout are outstanding, amazing us with new sights while never drawing undue attention to themselves. Often times a film such as this will have one or two special effects shots that do not quite hold up. Perhaps a single shot that looks just a little “off”. I did not see any such shot in Inception. From start to finish I was convinced by the images unfolding.
One extended sequence involves a character “swimming” through a hotel which reminds one of the Matrix “bullet time” effect. It similarly sets a new bar for such effects and will no doubt be parodied and copied for years to come.That is not say it feels out out of place or draws attention to itself as an effect. Instead it feels a natural part of the scene and world Nolan has created.
Unfortunately the film sometimes fails to successfully meld these visual elements with fully developed characters and a completely satisfying plot. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb pulls together a team to perform the films central driving narrative MacGuffin – “the heist”. This is a slightly tired dynamic and highlights the lack of character development as few of the team members establish much personality. Take Joseph Gordon-Levitt who certainly looks the part with slick hair and snappy suits but he gets no opportunity to develop beyond these surface level details. His motivations are ill defined (he appears cautious and unbelieving of the idea of inception yet takes no convincing to take part). Tom Hardy is most successful at giving his character personality, providing most of the films few moments of levity, though he too feels underwritten.
In place of character development we are given scenes of exposition as characters dutifully spend their time explaining the rules of the dreams. This success of these scenes is somewhat questionable as I was still unsure of some specific details (an architect is required to design dreams settings, but how are these settings provided to the dreamer?). I am not sure the film is best served by all of the exposition that takes place. I would have preferred if Nolan had found a way to more succinctly establish the rules required. I believe the audience could have inferred some of what it explicitly stated,
While perhaps too much time is spent explaining the rules of the dreamworld the heist that kicks things into motion and drives the film forward is rather under explained and relies on archetypal motivations (e.g. “I just want to make my father proud”) and characters.
Despite these criticisms I was always engaged and consider these flaws fairly minor given the world that Nolan creates. It feels truly unique. He deserves significant praise for this alone. The visuals and innovative world carry the film and the action runs at a great pace. Tension is built successfully throughout the film towards an exciting climax and final scene that leaves the audience with further questions. Questions that potentially explain some of the character actions in a new way and allow for an interpretation of the film that casts criticisms of the heist plot in a new light. I do not wish to divulge major spoilers so I will not discuss this in detail suffice to say I believe it ends the film on a high note and fits well with the tone and themes of the film as a whole.
Inception delivers exceptional visuals and action while challenging its audience in a sufficiently intriguing way to ensure it is a pleasure to watch from start to finish and is consistently entertaining despite dialogue and characters which can at times feel a little flat and overly expository. I highly recommend this film and greatly look forward to Nolan’s next projects. He has firmly established himself as one of the most innovative filmmakers of our time.