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I was going to make a magician joke, but that wouldn’t be good.  Much like this movie.

I will say, it does have the occasional fun times scattered throughout.  This is such a weirdly constructed film though.  It’s also a very dumb film, and one I can’t really recommend (unless you’re looking for a Saturday morning getaway, then by all means, enjoy).

Where to begin?  It has a overly long prologue introducing our main characters, of which all you really need to remember is what their specialty is.  Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) is the illusionist, Henley Reeves (Fisher) is the escape artist, Jack Wilder (Franco, Dave) is the pick pocket, and Merritt McKinney (Harrison) is the mentalist.  The four of them are brought together to perform a massive show as the Four Horsemen, backed by Arthur Tressler (Caine), a guy with a lot of money.  Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) is a guy who knows the tricks of the show.  Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is the FBI agent assigned to bring down the magicians (it’s a caper film, plus a couple other things), and Alma Vargas (Laurent) is the Interpol agent sent to help with the case.  Cue magic acts, chases, and so many twists and turns, including one barely hinted at at all and emphasized by the mentalist character at the end with “We didn’t see that one coming!” because no one did.

It’s also an exasperating film at times too.  The structure is weird: there’s a massive magic trick, and then there’s the long exposition about said magic trick (the Vegas set occupies a lot of said exposition); rinse and repeat.  The film slows to a crawl when it’s just talk and flashbacks and reveals.  There’s no sense of flow or tension here.  The FBI are so thoroughly inept in this film, which I’m sure it could be handily explained away with the final reveal but it’s frustrating when they just can’t do anything of any worth.  It’s like Keystone cops on steroids.  And don’t get me started on the non-character that was Agent Vargas, who gets thoroughly insulted multiple times by Rhodes and still finds time to fall in love with him by the end.

There’s also the CGI usage in the film, and while it’s not exasperating, its usage almost throws the film into fantasy.  The Vegas set piece, for example, has Reeves pulling out curtains from her sleeves before revealing a really large contraption in the middle of their stage.  The New Orleans set and the New York City set has these odd CGI things as well.  There are plenty of practical stuff, which is good, but all magic in general has a grounding in reality, not matter how outlandish the trick is.  The CGI makes some of these things impossible.

So no, this really isn’t a good at all.  The characters are one-dimension, the structure is not good, and the endless twists and red herrings are too much.  It’s occasionally fun, but I can’t recommend a film that’s “occasionally fun”.

 

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Warning: due to the nature of this film, there may be spoilers.

Now then…

Usually by now I have some sort of idea as to what I can say about a particular movie, especially for the ones that I write a week late.  They’re easy enough to figure out and write about, noting their qualities and their short comings.

Christopher Nolan, sir, you’ve given everyone something to chew on.  Like that overcooked steak that’s impossible to chew, or, for a more vegetarian friendly example for myself, … erm, I really can’t say.

Anyway, this film has its markings in several genres.  It’s definitely science fiction, that’s for sure, but also has the neo-noir influence wrapped in it as well (the sci-fi noir, as some may go on and call this).  It’s a thriller, and one may consider it a heist thriller as well, at least that’s how the most recent trailers tried to play it as (successfully I might add).

There is no time or location setting: this film could take place right now or twenty years in the future.  Everyday architecture is used quite well, with Paris and the chase scene in Mombasa (filmed in Tangiers) being the best used.

But it’s the dreams everyone is wondering about.  The dream within a dream within a dream, and that’s the riddle, the maze.

In essence, that’s the allure of the film, trying to figure out the riddle.  I’m curious as to whether there is one – actually, the last shot is the biggest riddle, which I will refuse to discuss here – as the film is essentially a heist thriller.  The riddle – the dreams and more dreams – give the film its impressive depth.

There are two main plot threads, both involving the concept of “inception”, which involves planting something, primarily an idea or thought, within the dream to make someone believe that it was their own idea or thought.  Dom Cobb is the character central to both plots: he’s hired by Saito to plant an idea into the son and future owner of a rival energy corporation to disband the company before it becomes a true monopoly.  The other involves Dom’s wife, Mal, and I’ll leave that one at that.

For the main plot, Dom creates a team to help infiltrate the mind of Robert Fischer (the son): Arthur, the Point Man for all of his missions; Eames, the Forger, who assumes the identity of a person that the infiltrated knows; Ariande, the Architect, who is required to build the dreams, each one more elaborate than the next; and Yusuf, the Chemist, who has a chemical that allows the dreamers to stay asleep for a much longer period of time, with an unexpected payoff for anyone who “dies” within the dream.

As you can see, this film is filled to the brim with plot, which unfortunately sacrifices a lot of character development.  Everyone has some semblance of a personality, usually to make their required traits or skills.  Dom is the only one who gets a lot of development though, much in part due to the film being as much about him as it is about attempting to infiltrate a man’s dreams.  Because of this, he’s the only one we can really care for, even as we learn stuff about him and his wife, and what he ended up doing along the way.

The lack of character hurts the film only slightly, as this is a plot driven film from beginning to end.  It’s tightly wound as much as it can be, which, given the way the movie is as layered as the dreams are, is truly incredible to behold.  It’s not every day when you go to a movie like this one and be required to think.

Actually, I do it all the time (look at most of the indie movies I’ve seen this year), but it’s rare for a major studio release to give us something this thick and juicy to think about.  That’s probably what the science fiction genre allows for us to do is think, and to think in especially complicated ways, often about the meaning of life.  Inception gives us a little piece of that, throwing us into a world of dreams that may or may not be like ours.

It’s also an exciting action thriller, and as such, you can still switch your brain off enough to not have to think about everything and just enjoy it.  Seriously, this movie is almost impossible to beat: a deep thinking movie and an excellently filmed crime thriller to boot.

In all honesty, keep your brain on.  You’ll find that you’ll enjoy it much more if you allow yourself to ponder everything that the film throws at you.

Especially the last scene.

A-

Note: the score by Hans Zimmer is equally as impressive.  Listen to it at times and you find a hint of sci-fi noir in it as well, almost like the Vangelis score from Blade Runner.