Inception is a moderately engaging, globe-trotting adventure. On any reflection, it’s also mind-numbingly dumb.
What’s brilliant is how Nolan packages it. He takes a heist film, with all its inherent engagement, and triples it. Three times the things going wrong and the characters having to figure out new, CG-aided solutions.
Another smart move is making it a future movie without any future stuff. By never explaining Inception’s dream science, Nolan doesn’t have to create a reality. He doesn’t have to worry about having any real characters or human emotion. Much of his cast seems trapped in adolescence–Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Elliot Page–so it’s a smart move. When Gordon-Levitt shows attraction towards Page, it’s like they’re playing dress-up.
Inception, for all its Nolan pretension, is just a blockbuster. Nolan’s gimmick is to make stupid populist entertainment appear smart and thoughtful. Inception excels at it, making me think Nolan knows exactly what to sell to general audiences (like Shyamalan used to).
Technically, Nolan’s direction is solid. Wally Pfister’s lighting occasionally makes it look good quite good (usually outside the dreams–inside it’s too claustrophobic). Hans Zimmer’s score is sublime.
Great performances from Tom Hardy (he’s amazing), Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe. DiCaprio effectively imitates Brad Pitt. Gordon-Levitt embarrasses himself. Page is weak. Marion Cotillard is awful. Michael Caine dodders about.
Nolan blended Vanilla Sky and The Matrix, added one pinch each Dreamscape and Memento, then an abbreviated Shyamalan ending. Hurray for him.