Inception begins with a tide lapping into the semi-conscious face of Leonardo DiCaprio. Minutes later we follow him as he commando rolls and dives around what looks like a militarised version of the Japanese-themed hotel in Disney World. As lanterns drop and smash dramatically from great heights and chaos flourishes, Marian Cottilard is phased by none of this as she calmly parades around a wood-panelled room in a black designer dress, ignoring the tidal waves that are smashing against all sides of the building. Ahh, she’s not real, we’re in a dreamscape. Silly us.
Attempting to combine Matrix-style concepts with the black tie elegance and action of a James Bond, Inception sets itself a tall order and, well, fails. The film lays itself a deadly trap in that it needs to feast on quite intellectual material but cannot afford to bite-off anything a mainstream American audience won’t be able to chew.
Ellen Page gives the only strong performance but her character is sadly flawed without a background or a motive. Ariadne is overly-reminiscent of Thora Birch’s Jane in American Beauty and Jena Malone’s Gretchen in Donnie Darko. Her lines alternate bizarrely between whiny questions and profound statements of scientific understanding. Ariadne has nowhere to go and the last we see of her she’s looking both gormless and meaningful, slouched in a first class airplane seat.
Cillian Murphy’s talent is tragically wasted in this film. His first six scenes could have been made using a Madame Tussauds waxwork, and although he looks quite sexy in his white-on-white designer skiwear, his alpine Action Man scene is quite bland and whoever dreamt up the scenery seems to have borrowed heavily from the graphics on the N64's Golden Eye. Only at the billionaire father’s deathbed do Inception’s makers get a bit of their money’s worth out of Cillian.
Leo’s looking old these days. He was great in The Departed and Blood Diamond, proving his succesful transition from teen twink to mature actor. In Inception, he looks more like a door-to-door salesman, he’s good at being chased by evil nondescript Asian gangsters, but not so good at building up atmospheric tension. The music score therefore has to work overtime, but is still a missed opportunity with very little memorable material. A bit of a Jack Dawson esque heart-shaped curtain flops across Leo's forehead during the romantic moments, a forehead which, quite fittingly for this film, is starting to look like a maze.
Inception wants to be six successful movies at once and so fails to shape its own identity. It has a weak script which darts between being painfully patronising and unintentionally funny. The actors take themselves too seriously, which has undoubtedly woven a breeding ground for future parodies (French & Saunders are probably filming as I type this). Tom Hardy is unbearable in this film as his character attempts to make light of what is essentially the ugly over-simplification of a complex concept.
And so Inception ends up being riddled with nonsense and mindless hysteria. The dream landscapes themselves are very bureaucratic, almost positively boring, and seem to be modelled on waiting rooms, corporate atriums, hotels and the Mavis Beacon typing school. Perhaps the film should have been called Reception?
A second viewing on DVD might offer better insights into the storyline, but the script doesn’t give the actors much to work with. Consequently he characters are two-dimensional apart from Leonardo DiCaprio who is given a Hollywood family (two angelic little blonde children, one boy and one girl of course). It is naff, wet and lazy how Inception uses Leonardo’s reunification with these two annoying holographic kids as the emotional lynch-pin and driving force behind an entire film.
Inception wants to be a lot of things that it isn’t. So what is it? It’s corporate, it’s Hollywood and it’s an okay movie. All of the actors have given much stronger performances in much better films in recent years, and so it is sad to see these big screen A-listers all lost in a kind of “Ocean’s Five” movie. So much happens and yet nothing much happens.
(If the credits were accompanied by Lee Mead singing ‘Any Dream Will Do’, then I might have written a different review)