I was really enjoying Inception until I woke up. Actually, that’s not true. Unlike my companion, the Sandman didn’t come to rescue me from Christopher Nolan’s bombastic blockbuster and I had to sit through all two and a half hours of it, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays a corporate spy who specialises in entering people’s dreams and discovering their secrets. This is evidently a complex technology that requires one dreamer to design the location (it has to be fake because not knowing whether you are awake or dreaming carries massive risks to one’s sanity), one dreamer to lead the subject, the subject themselves and (sometimes) a forger who can take on the shapes and characteristics of other people.
There’s a lot of fighting in these dreams as the subject’s subconscious sees the invasion and tries to fight it off like white blood cells. But, you know when in your own dreams you try and hit someone and they end up being really weak marshmallow punches? That’s how the antibodies shoot so it takes quite a lot of bullets before one will actually hit you. And when one hits you and you die, in the real world you wake up so it’s really like a video game with multiple lives.
Where things get complicated for DiCaprio’s crew (and for us, the audience) is when they create dreams within dreams to further bamboozle the subject and his defences. The risk is that you never know whether you are in the real world or not, except that I always know when I’m dreaming as I usually have no trousers on.
DiCaprio has another problem. His own subconscious is haunted by his dead wife (Marion Cotillard) who jumped out a hotel room window precisely because she couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. So, in a small way, then, Inception is like a prequel to Scorsese’s Shutter Island and it allows DiCaprio to produce much the same performance, composed mostly of sweating and frowning.
Japanese tycoon Ken Watanabe offers DiCaprio a deal — if he can plant an idea in another man’s head as opposed to taking one out, he can go home to the children he abandoned when he was accused of killing his wife. Inception, as they call it, is hard and requires a completely unstable third level of dream-within-a-dream.
There are some cool moments in the film but it never transcends them. The storytelling is so unsatisfying and the characterisation so non-existent that I can’t recommend Inception to anyone who actually knows and likes good films. If you were to remove the huge digital “because-we-can” set-pieces and the long scenes of poorly written exposition, in which Nolan tries to explain to us all what the hell is going on, you don’t really have much left and he remains a completely incoherent director of action.
There are six people in DiCaprio’s undercover team and I would defy anyone to actually describe them in anything other purely physical terms. I can’t. They are not characters — they are video game avatars. Only the great young English actor Tom Hardy, who ate up the screen in Bronson earlier this year, makes an impression and even he can’t be described as anything other than ‘smart-arse’. Who is Ariadne the architect (Ellen Page)? Why is she in Paris? What is she studying with Michael Caine? Why is she dressed like a leader of the Australian Labor Party when she’s only 21 years old?
Rushed into cinemas only seven months after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo broke box office records, The Girl Who Played with Fire will satisfy all fans of the original and will probably win over doubters like me, too. I had some problems with the gratuitous nastiness of the original but that has been toned down a bit and what we have left is a perfectly acceptable mystery thriller with some effective direction from Daniel Alfredson, who wasn’t responsible for the first film but will be for the next — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — which has already been made and is due here on Boxing Day.
After the previous film Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) did her OE on the plentiful proceeds of her hacking but now she’s back in Stockholm just in time for someone to want her dead. Not just dead, in fact, but dead and buried along with her sordid family past. Investigative reporter Nyqvist (Michael Blomqvist in this film and due to be played by Daniel Craig in the impending Hollywood remake) is two steps behind trying, and failing, to keep Salander out of trouble.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 28 July, 2010. And, in a blatant attempt to pick up some of that Inception traffic I’ve jumped it up the queue of reviews to be posted.