Monday, July 19, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Dream a Little Dream

Films about dreams have been good (Dreamscape), bad (In Dreams) and ugly (the Freddy Krueger oeuvre), but few directors have devised a dream world as regimented as Christopher Nolan’s in Inception. Although well acted and full of stunning visuals and creativity, Inception’s dream worlds are depressingly familiar. The characters, except for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, are sketchy and under-developed, and even Cobb is a variation of Leo's character in Shutter Island. The unlimited potential of fantasy scenarios is somewhat wasted by Nolan, who also wrote the screenplay.

Cobb and his co-conspirator Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are high tech spies who “extract” corporate secrets from people’s dreams. After a botched assignment, their intended target Saito (Ken Watanabe) entices Cobb into “one last job” that will clear Cobb’s name and allow him to reunite with his children. The catch is that this time, they have to plant an idea into the mark’s mind, a very dangerous and complex process. Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) is the lone heir to a huge oil conglomerate, run by his cold and withholding father (Pete Postlethwaite). Cobb’s job is to convince Fischer Jr. to dismantle the corporation upon his father’s death. It requires planting the idea three levels down into Fischer’s psyche, which is, as you can imagine, very difficult, and is complicated by the fact that Cobb’s personal demons keep invading his dream worlds, including his wife, Mal, well-played by Marion Cotillard.

There is no denying that Nolan has created a fantastic world with Inception, and it is an incredibly dense narrative that requires absolute attention to follow. That makes the lack of imagination in the dream worlds that much more disheartening. The Los Angeles shoot-out scenes feel like a Bourne Identity retread, while the snowy fortress scenes feel like a standard issue James Bond knock-off. The dreamers are never in mortal danger, even if they are killed, so the suspense is somewhat muted.

Inception is leaps and bounds above typical summer dreck like Transformers. The cast is uniformly excellent (especially the hot Tom Hardy as the cool “forger” Eames), although Ellen Page is a little lightweight for her role. Still, when you consider where our dreams can take us, in the words of Eames, Inception “shouldn’t (have been) afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

UPDATE: Inception is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.


  1. I loved "Inception" and found it a superior movie. Sure, the concept isn't completely original but the execution was near-brilliant. While I'd love to hear a psychologist weigh in on it, I was most impressed by how accurately (in my experience) it conveyed the dream experience. I can only speak of my own dreams, but they don't take place in fantasy locations. The action and characters in them can often be surreal but typically I recognize the setting. And the performances were uniformly excellent, including Page. I'd like to see it again to ensure it all adds up logically, as I did previously with "Memento." Like that earlier Nolan film, though, I expect it will.

  2. Reel Thoughts NeilJuly 19, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    I want to see Reverend's FULL review! We can be like Siskel & Ebert! Inception "isn't completely original" is an understatement--It's The (Dream) Sting, it's (Dream) Mission Impossible, it's The (Dream) Spy Who Loved Me...You get the idea. I liked how all the pieces of Cobb's psyche fell into his dream jobs (The freight train, Mal the femme fatale, etc.), but you have to wonder ***Spoiler***why Mal couldn't differentiate reality from dreams -- Wasn't her "Totem" the top, and aren't we supposed to assume that it would have toppled every time she tested it in the real world? Was that explained away and I missed it?

    Anyway, Inception is a masterpiece compared to the hideous "Dreamcatcher", and is a smart, solid movie on it's own. I still contend that it could have been much more, but Nolan held back. I'm not the only one -- The NY Times wasn't an all-out rave, and the Phx. New Times was a semi-pan. It takes a rich movie to inspire such intelligent debate, my good friend!

  3. Probably the best Nolan movie we've seen I think, although I still can't pick between this and Shutter Island for the best movie of the year. Oscar could be heading to Mr diCaprio I think.


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