Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

film review: Inception

by Leonard Maltin
July 15, 2010 4:00 AM
32 Comments
  • |

Everyone is different. I don’t like mazes, puzzles, Rubik’s Cube, or most of Christopher Nolan’s films. He delights in creating cinematic puzzles but I always sense the wheels turning, instead of getting caught up in the action. Obviously he has the imagination to devise ingenious premises and the skill to bring them to life, but halfway through Inception, which runs close to two-and-a-half hours, my mind started to wander. Instead of being pulled into his world I felt myself drifting away from it.

The movie starts out promisingly enough. In a kind of companion piece to Shutter Island, Leonardo DiCaprio is cast as a man who is haunted by things he has planted in his own fertile imagination. The subject of the movie is—

—experimental mind control, and as the story progresses we dive deeper and deeper into this world—from one level to another, with one person’s living dream hatching in another person’s mind. And so on and so forth.

Nolan starts the movie with a bang, grabbing us with an action sequence that also makes use of visual effects and mind games, and punctuates the story with more of the same. DiCaprio works alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and tries to resist the temptation of a job offered by businessman Ken Watanabe—but can’t, because he holds out a carrot Leo can’t walk away from.

The best sequence involves Leonardo’s recruitment of super-smart Ellen Page as he walks her into this world of imaginary architecture where your mind paints a three-dimensional picture. We can only marvel at what writer-director Nolan has thought up and executed so well.

But he doesn’t know when to stop. Every level leads to another level, and the expository dialogue becomes ludicrous as characters try to explain the ever-shifting ground rules to one another—and to us in the audience. The result is pure gobbledygook. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but a climactic outdoor action set piece seems completely and utterly contrived, an excuse to hype the movie with more stunt work and explosions. It has no organic connection to the story; it’s one more indulgence of a filmmaker who can’t, or won’t, edit himself.

The performances are good. DiCaprio is properly anguished, Marion Cotillard does well as his tormented wife, and Nolan’s good-luck charm Michael Caine brings his trademark charisma to a throwaway role. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s always good, is permitted to contribute a few (very few) lighter moments to an otherwise deadly serious narrative. Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao complete DiCaprio’s “team,” adding life and color to the ensemble.

But the result, for me, is a muddle. Even at the early press screening I attended, I heard cries of “Brilliant!”, so I know my opinion won’t be shared by everyone. I admire Christopher Nolan’s ambition and intelligence, but I don’t think it’s necessary to jump through endless hoops to tell a good story, or to digest one. I’m of the “less is more” school, but Nolan and his followers apparently believe that more is better.
 

  • |

More: Film Reviews

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

32 Comments

  • Jason | January 28, 2011 6:16 AMReply

    I think it's absolutely idiotic how people get so ruffled about a negative criticism to a film. If you liked Inception so much, or if it's TRUELY the masterpiece you think it is then it shouldn't matter what anyone else says....unless of course you're starting to have doubts about it's greatness....

  • Sameer Chowdhury | December 30, 2010 10:12 AMReply

    While Inception is a wildly delightful idea and the premise is carried out in the modern filmaker's most supposedly ingenious techniques-sharp editing, and layers upon layers of great ideas are put together, there's something that's always lacking-an overall emotional response that co-relates with your intellect.
    I am not surprised with Maltin but there's no question th\at he has no place being overtly critical of Nolan.
    While I worship classics and the power they have to hold you inside them, one cannot shut oneself over different forms of filmaking. That's, in its own way, is digressive.
    And while Inception is no classic, it is a wildy successful and innovative as they come. Imagine a world where such types of films would never exist or thought of as impossible to concieve, even as an idea.
    3 stars out of four.

    Sameer

  • KS | October 13, 2010 4:44 AMReply

    In the words of Quentin Tarantino "You don't go to a Metallic concert and ask them to turn down the volume". Leonard you have no idea what you are talking about Christopher Nolan is one of the best film makers of our time. If you can't accept the way a director makes his film then you shouldn't go see his movies in the first place.

  • Arnie Harris | August 23, 2010 7:16 AMReply

    As usual you hit saw Inception for the confoundingly ludirous bag of gas it was,.

  • Jason | August 8, 2010 6:27 AMReply

    Roger Ebert wrote a great article about the back-lash against critics (and movie-goers) who're not taken with widely loved films like Inception.

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/07/the_myth_of_a_perfect_film.html

  • D.F | August 3, 2010 2:36 AMReply

    Has this review been posted on Rotten Tomatoes? Every one should read it, because it hits the nail on the head. Maltin is to be commended for standing up and speaking his mind against all the bedazzled people who insist that it's "briliant". There were far too many loud explosive special effects, and too much explanatory dialogue, to the point of tedium. The director used any and every excuse he could think of to add yet another exaggerated special effect. Doesn't he understand that "brevity is the soul of wit"?! It was mind-numbing and became boring early on in the movie. The endless special effects wasted time and delayed plot development. I also saw little character development. The movie is badly in need of editing. I lost patience with it and walked out after 40 minutes -- my husband did, too. What a waste of 40 minutes!

  • Marcus | August 2, 2010 8:51 AMReply

    Spot on review. I felt much the same. Great concept ruined by an under developed plot with too many stunts and explosions.

  • Dana C | July 22, 2010 11:07 AMReply

    Well said Brent. I pretty much think that's what film critics are there for; to impart the information and their opinion of it. After that, it's up to us to decide whether or not we want to plop down the bucks to check it out for ourselves.

    That being said: I don't always agree with Leonard Maltin either. When our experiences of a film happen to run along the same lines, I *do* feel a sense of validation. I guess that's only natural. I have the same feeling if a close friend of mine shares my sentiments. I, too, have come to know (fairly accurately) what Mr. Maltin will like and not like, but have to say that I have recently found myself pleasantly surprised--a couple of times. For instance, he gave Knight and Day a fairly positive review. I was so taken aback that he liked it, I made it a point to see the film and low and behold, I liked it too!

    As for Inception, which I've yet to see, it's recieved too many good notices not to check it out.

  • Jason | July 22, 2010 10:05 AMReply

    Did anyone else see 'The Following'? That movie was under 90 minutes and no where NEAR the budget of Inception but showed just as much creativity on Nolan's part.

  • MJC | July 21, 2010 3:57 AMReply

    Well, I don't personally like diabetes, women's cocktails, or most of your reviews.

  • LM | July 21, 2010 3:55 AMReply

    I am sorry to inform you Ryano, but Inception is going to receive **/****.

  • ryano | July 21, 2010 2:42 AMReply

    When I saw The Dark Knight, I thought it was the best movie ever made. Then when I read your opinion of it in your book I realized there are flaws. Flaws that cannot be ignored. However, this film is different. Really. The entire cast is great. Its pretty much impossible to spoil for someone who hasn't seen it...l swear if when you put out your new book and this doesn\n't get 3 or more stars, I will not buy it. And frankly I'm getting impatient waiting for it.

  • Brent | July 21, 2010 1:06 AMReply

    In defense of Maltin...

    I wish I could say that I'm surprised at some of the comments where a poster is upset that Maltin didn't like a film that they did. Obviously, there will be a diversity of opinions about film and I have no problem with that, especially when someone outlines why they did or did not like a film in a clear, concise way. I don't agree with Maltin's opinions of some films but to me that's not what makes him valuable to me as a resource.

    Leonard Maltin has appealed to me for many years because of the consistency of his opinions. There are some major figures in the movie review business who will strongly like, and then strongly dislike, two films for exactly the same reasons - in some cases consecutive films in a series (i.e. James Bond or Star Trek)! I have found Maltin's opinions and tastes to be, dare I say, predictable. Which is very valuable to me because I can then say "Well, even though he didn't like this film based on what he said I know that I'll enjoy it". That makes him, to me, one of the most useful reviewers around. I don't read movie reviews to bolster the opinion I've already decided to have; I read reviews to figure out whether I will like a film. How I'm able to figure that out doesn't matter as long as I *am* able to figure it out.

  • michaelmckay | July 20, 2010 3:47 AMReply

    Mr. Maltin,

    I doubt if you actually have the time to read through the comments sections of your online reviews (such as this one), but I have a request...no...make that a plea.

    Each year I buy a paperback edition of your film guide, and I think it's the best on the market. However...there are certain films, and filmmakers, who seem rather conspicuous by their absence. For instance, case in point, the legendary Czech director Frantisek Vlacil. Several of his films, including masterpieces like The White Dove, The Valley of the Bees, and Marketa Lazarova are now all available on DVD (I own them all). Also, strangely absent are films like Shohei Imamura's Palm d'Or winning The Ballad of Narayama, and Kieslowski's The Decalogue. Such works of art shouldn't be absent from the pages of the best film guide on the market.

    In closing, I implore you to expand the foreign titles in your guide, and give them the same respect you show English language cinema.

    Thanks so much for your time.

    Michael McKay

  • Eugene P. Helowoski | July 19, 2010 11:53 AMReply

    I feel the exact same way Tom. I purchase his $10 book every year and have since 1996. I must say though that i felt Maltin seemed albeit generous with his rare **** the other year with Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and especially Slumdog Millionaire which i felt by the time i watched it on dvd, with all of the raising awareness of poor kids in Dubai...there was just too much of all of that before i even watched it, i just could not sit down and watch it. I did think Frost/Nixon and Benjamin Button were good though, just surprised maltin liked them especially button's 160 minute runtime.

  • Upstart Guide - Charles Morgan | July 19, 2010 10:42 AMReply

    I think this is a **** film for several reasons. For starters, I think that the film may take place entirely in dreams- calling into question the entire world that Cobb finds himself in.. I think the film requires multiple viewings to develop a firm hypothesis as to what's going on and what's truly at stake for Cobb.

    I felt that this film had a startling point of view, almost reminiscent to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in its sheer audacity to myth make. And while Kubrick could not be seen as the modern fast cutting, CGI using film maker that this current generation is- I feel the two stories share a sense of transcendence and intellegent design.

  • Tom | July 19, 2010 6:00 AMReply

    Leonard Maltin's reviews have changed my whole outlook on pictures throughout the years. Every year I buy his Guide and can't wait to see the ***1/2, and the incredibly rare ****, films that came out the year before. It's like a breath of fresh air to know that someone saves the best rating for the few films that actually deserve it. He looks at a film as a whole, judging every scene, and utilizes the rating system in the best possible way.

    I have not seen "Inception," but plan to. However, Mailtin isn't the type of person who wants to give bad reviews to Christopher Nolan's films. So-far, he's already enjoyed just under half of the movies of his young career. Not bad. No filmmaker is perfect. Attention to detail has been lagging. Maybe next time...

  • Matthew | July 19, 2010 3:47 AMReply

    Christopher Nolan puzzles me as a writer-director. Most of his movies don't hold up in repeated viewings. For example, Memento, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige lose their impact. Nolan's current movie, Inception, actually works most of the way, but it left me wanting more. I thought the ending seemed cheap as he cut to black with the spinning top. Pretentious.

    I agree with Mr. Maltin that Terminator 2 is squat in comparison to the original. The only thing worth a darn about the second Terminator is the special effects because the acting, the characters, and the story are completely ludicrous. In fact, much of James Cameron's work is ludicrous starting with the last 40 minutes of The Abyss up to his most recent picture, Avatar.

    Personally, I enjoy Christopher Nolan's movies much more than M. Night Shyamalan, who has devolved into a hack. In fact, the current wave of young directors is lacking: Michael Bay, Shyamalan, Wes Anderson, and Gore Verbinski are very very inconsistent. The one director who displayed consistency, but has been painfully quiet is Alexander Payne.

  • HB | July 18, 2010 12:54 PMReply

    I do enjoy puzzles, and coming out of this movie I was quite satisfied. I also knew that Leonard Maltin wouldn't like it. The pattern is simple. When a movie's storyline gets complicated and starts really requiring a little thought, Maltin shuts down. This trend has led him to many reviews that few would agree with, but has made him predictable.

    He thought Terminator 2 was a lesser movie than the original, and while I confess I like Terminator 3, very few people would consider it superior to the second film (which he did). In the Star Trek films, he thought that Generations, Insurrection and Nemesis were wonderful films, as opposed to the sub par tripe that that they were. What's worse, he heaps on that kind of praise when films are shot through with obvious plot holes.

    If you enjoy a complicated storyline, than you'll probably enjoy inception. If not, stay away. As for Maltin, he should stick to reviewing fair that he is the audience for, or at least learn when to acknowledge that he may not be that audience and admit it might be good for them.

  • IGH | July 18, 2010 12:16 PMReply

    Leonard Maltin should be banned from seeing any of Christopher Nolan's future. He dose not pay any respect towards Nolan's work because it's different from all of those Disney cartoon's reccomends.

  • Eugene P. Helowoski | July 17, 2010 11:31 AMReply

    The only reason i like reading Maltin's reviews is because for the most part, even before a film comes out, i can guess whether he's going to like it or not. and i can always tell what he will "nitpick" about... usually the running time of a film. so unless it's sex and the city, it had better be within a 100 minute range.... or incredibly liberal!

  • Jason F. | July 17, 2010 7:51 AMReply

    Ah, yes - the old "if you don't like a popular film that I liked then you're really just a part of a herd - a contrarian herd!!1!" It's been done, and it's still stupid. I can assure you that most people who claim to not like "The Dark Knight" really don't like it (and it's not because they think they'll somehow look cool if they go and tell all their buddies that they didn't like it,) just as most people who do claim to like it really do like it (and not because it's the popular thing to do.) It's fun to think that everyone who holds a different opinion from you is somehow faulty in their reasoning or logic or in their ability to form an honest, unbiased opinion - but, well, you're wrong.

    And, for the record, wouldn't anal vomit just be feces (or perhaps diarrhea)? I know it sounds extra gross to combine those two words, but it's really not if you think about it. You would have been better off just leaving it at "vomit" (and I do agree that it was a fairly vomitous film.)

  • Alex Ozuna | July 17, 2010 5:26 AMReply

    Yea, my local film critic also didn't like it. He gave "Inception" two and a half stars. On first viewing, I thought of "B +". But I have to watch it again. It was really good and might be a four star film. It's about as good as "Shutter Island" if not better.

  • FM | July 17, 2010 1:14 AMReply

    Just because a person does not think The Dark Knight is great does not mean they are part of a "herd" mentality. You could easily make the same accusation of Nolan fanboys, especially since they are in the majority of the masses. I would not compare the new Batman movies to the Joel Schumacher films simply because they are part of a "reboot" and meant to be viewed separately from the Joel Schumacher films. It should also not be a requirement to be familar with the source material to appreciate a movie. We are talking about two different mediums (comic books and film) anyways.

  • Henry | July 16, 2010 11:37 AMReply

    Unfortunately my comment where I said "Inception" was brilliant is being attributed to someone named FM, and his comment about "fine director but not so good filmmaker" is being attributed to me. Web person, please fix that. But anyway, I can compare "Batman & Robin" to "The Dark Knight" because they are part of the same franchise spun from the same source material. But "Batman & Robin" was an idiotic, almost unwatchable pile of anal vomit, whereas "The Dark Knight" was intelligently written, suspenseful, and highly entertaining, and most of its detractors are these people who are just being contrary to sound unique and only fall into another herd known as the backlash herd.

  • FM | July 16, 2010 10:15 AMReply

    Batman & Robin is a kiddie movie though. You cannot really compare it to a serious, adult film.

  • Henry | July 16, 2010 9:27 AMReply

    I thought this film was brilliant. And in this dismal period of duller-than-dull remakes and sequels, I thought the intelligence and originality of this film was very refreshing. It truly baffles me that a critic of Mr. Maltin's stature can't appreciate that. But, and not to take a cheap shot, this is the same critic who gave "Batman & Robin" a higher rating than "The Dark Knight".

  • FM | July 16, 2010 8:16 AMReply

    Nolan is a fine director but a not-so-good filmmaker. I think that people have overrated him because they compare him to guys like Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan (now) who are good directors but godawful filmmakers.

  • Jason | July 16, 2010 7:26 AMReply

    Unfortunatly like the Dark Knight I think Inception started out good (kinda felt like what the Matrix SHOULD have been) but i agree it went on for too long. I think Nolan's pretention shows so much that it all feels more like a plot out-line than an actual movie experience.

    However you can't knock Christopher Nolan for his unbeatable casting!

  • Hugh Kelly | July 16, 2010 6:45 AMReply

    Almost all of Nolan's are grossly overrated, particularly The Dark Knight. I didn't think it was a terrible film, but almost good (I'd give it a two and a half star rating). Now, this film is going to be very praised, and who knows about the Oscars with the ten nominations now, and Richard Roeper, a critic I respect, said it's a frontrunner to win, but this film was very pretentious.

  • Mark Whelan | July 16, 2010 5:59 AMReply

    I, unlike many, felt Nolan's "Dark Knight" was grossly overrated, but not a "bad" film by any means. I stand by your review of "Memento," a film of which I found pretentious and dramatically aloof, regardless of a clever idea--again we are of the minority. I don't suppose Nolan's checkered past assisted in your opinion of "Inception," but reading your words made me feel as though you truly didn't want to like it. Then again, I really liked "Revenge of the Fallen" (I say this truly believing Michael Bay to be the de-evolutionary monster of contemporary cinema), so I guess my optimism may be misplaced.

  • Jason | July 15, 2010 2:52 AMReply

    I think this film along with Kick-Ass and Dark Knight show even intelligent ideas can blow up in your face if the filmmakers show no restraint.

Email Updates

Latest Tweets

Follow us

Most "Liked"

  • Curtain-David Suchet-PoirotWhy David Suchet Came So Close To Missing ...
  • The Major and the Minor-485Throwback Thursday: Ginger Rogers, Billy ...
  • Charlie Chaplin at Comic-ConCharlie Chaplin At Comic-Con
  • Guardians of the Galaxy-Saldana-PrattGuardians Of The Galaxy
  • Calvary-Brendan Gleeson-promoCalvary
  • Get On Up-Chadwick BosemanGet On Up


leonardmaltin