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Submitted by on February 4, 2011 – 10:27 AM33 Comments

Death Race 36, Sarah 20; 2 of 24 categories completed

I dreaded it. Two and a half hours…about dreams? Didn’t Robin Williams already do this? Didn’t Leonardo DiCaprio, for that matter? And does stupid Juno have to be there?

Fortunately, it’s pretty fun — much wittier than I’d expected. The “What’s that?” / “Good authority” exchange is great; the grumbling about how Eames should have taken a pee before they all went under because now it’s pouring rain in the dream level is hilarious; I loved the top-level car chase that ends in Yusuf turning to the others in the van all, “Did you see that?” before remembering that they’re all sedated.

Best of all is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur. Love that guy! Did anyone think he would turn out so foxy? He’s not conventionally handsome, either; he’s just got something. And he can really wear a vest. I loved the bit where Arthur exchanges like four volleys of machine-gun fire with dream baddies on a nearby roof, and when Eames blows up a transformer to dispatch them, Arthur makes this face: “Huh. Well, that’ll work too.” Also loved him meticulously tying everyone together and floating them to the elevator.

The movie’s not without problems, though, and that’s one of them — that I found JGL’s character more interesting to watch than DiCaprio’s Cobb, that I wanted to watch Arthur work and not puzzle over yet another brain-teaser about Mal. Part of it, as I’ve mentioned before, is a credibility issue concerning DiCaprio’s physicality, or whatever it is that makes him not entirely believable as a man who carries that kind of sorrow, but that that part of the story just takes up too much space for my taste. Marion Cotillard does her best, but the “this is real” / “noooo, THIS is real” bits take too long and repeat themselves, and at the end of the day I don’t see why the film couldn’t have done fine as a travelogue of this particular line of work. We have the daddy issues, too, after all. (It’s bittersweet to see Pete Postlethwaite taking a last turn as a heartbreaking father figure. RIP, Da!)

But despite getting bogged down in spots in a soggy love story without much chemistry — and an intrusive DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun DUN dun score that I have to think is not entirely serious, Inception is fun. I would have to see it again to know whether all the construction holds on a second viewing; I will confess that, once they hit the snow level, I kind of lost track of what happens where, and why, but I don’t think that’s the movie’s fault, and I did find myself admiring how well they handled the exposition dumps. Ellen Page is actually quite charming as an audience stand-in. It’s cool to look at. Would I rather have seen a shorter story that put JGL at the center and relied less on the ruined-love angle, and more on well-the-shit-is-just-cool motivations? Sure — but this one’s pretty damn good anyway.

And I don’t think Cobb’s dreaming at the end. Discuss.

As for the awards…I don’t know. It’s a bit surprising to me, now that I’ve seen it, that it’s not nominated for Best Director. Not that it should win, or would, but it’s up for Best Picture, Nolan’s up for Original Screenplay, and that absence is a bit strange. I don’t know that it can win in any of the above-the-fold categories, honestly, and I can never predict the more technical categories like Sound Mixing; I suspect that, past the nomination phase, people just vote for whatever they liked best.




  • Krissa says:

    My favorite theory I’ve heard thus far, but haven’t yet tested on a re-watch: When they are at the apothecary, testing the sedative? Cobb tries to spin the top on the bathroom counter when they wake up, but then knocks it over, and doesn’t try again. I can’t remember now if every time after it topples or doesn’t (according to what it’s supposed to do), but it could be that from that point forward, the entire rest of the movie is a dream.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, but I agree about focusing too much on the lost love story. I actually found DiCaprio watchable, too, and I haven’t been able to say that since…ever. I love JGL, though.

  • Rachel says:

    “Best of all is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur. Love that guy! Did anyone think he would turn out so foxy? He’s not conventionally handsome, either; he’s just got something. And he can really wear a vest.”

    I call dibs! DIBS, I SAY! I sat through that GI Joe movie because of him! And I paid money to see (500) Days of Summer/sat through another Zooey Deschanel monotone offering just for him! DIBS!

    On the other hand… Lukas Haas? Not aging well. :(

    That said, I really liked Inception. I put off seeing it because of all the “OMGWTFBBQ” press it was getting but I really really liked it. It even felt like a dream at times, where all of a sudden you’re in the snow? Ohhhhhhhhhkay. It dragged a little bit, and I think Michael Caine was under-used, but overall it was pretty good. And I loved the ending, which I will not spoil. I thought it was perfect.

  • Omar G. says:

    Could not agree more about Mr. Gordon-Levitt. He was a really game, wonderful host on “SNL,” too. Guy’s a real charmer. Can’t wait to see him in the next “Batman.”

  • Jennifer M. says:

    I have never been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio for reasons that are totally foolish and completely have to do with a boy I had a crush on in high school. However, I must say that this is the first movie of his that I’ve seen (and in fairness I haven’t seen many), where I didn’t mind him at all.

  • Catherine says:

    This youtube clip points out something that suggests that the DUN dun DUN score may have been chosen for reasons beyond its loud wall of sound (ie it actually fits the plot in a cool way):

    Thought that was an impressive sort of detail.

  • Vanamonde says:

    “I don’t think Cobb’s dreaming at the end. Discuss.”

    As a hard-science type I know he isn’t dreaming because I know the top is going to fall, because it has started wobbling and therefore it must fall. But that’s just me.

    What I found more interesting about the ending was that Leo doesn’t wait to see if it will fall. He found what he wanted and no longer cares whether or not he’s dreaming.

  • tyliag says:


    I’ve had Dibs on him since before 10 Things I Hate About You and I’m talking way back, in that bad Demi Moore movie where she’s a member of a jury and her son (JGL) is being threatened. That’s how far back my obsession goes, so get in line.

    Lucas Haas full on depresses me nowadays. I saw both Witness and Lady in White countless times growing up and nowadays how does he repay me? By having bit parts in movies I wouldn’t think to look for him in. Brick, this, a few others. Oh, and Material Girls. The best leading guy role you’ve had in years and its next to Haylie Duff in one of the most boringly predictable throw-aways I’ve seen in a long time? For shame Lucas, for shame.

    Onto the movie itself. I can definitely see how Leo would have his detractors in this movie, and how annoying the whole Marion Cottialard storyline was, but for me, the movie was less about his twisted relationship with his wife and more about redemption and getting back to his children, the light just happened to show on the relationship instead…. but that’s my take.

  • Whitney says:

    I actually ended up seeing in a second time over Christmas, it seemed like the dream level stuff actually got more interesting and the Mal stuff seemed even more annoying and problematic structurally. The really long flashback where Cobb explains EXACTLY what happened to Mal brings the movie to an absolute dead stop on rewatch, and I couldn’t help picking out places where they could have better inserted just the important bullet points of that scene without losing all the momentum. And it also made me realize just how terribly underwritten Ariadne is — I actually think Ellen Page did about as well as she could given that she’s just there to force exposition from the other characters.

    I also don’t believe Cobb was dreaming at the end. My boyfriend and I had a very heated disagreement about it after we saw the movie the first time.

  • trog says:


    I noticed that. After he knocks over the top in the apothecary, he doesn’t spin it again until the last moment, so for the rest of the movie, we don’t know.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    the Mal stuff seemed even more annoying and problematic structurally. The really long flashback where Cobb explains EXACTLY what happened to Mal brings the movie to an absolute dead stop on rewatch

    Totes — on first watch, too. It very quickly becomes clear how it ends with her, but the explanation and the actual flashback don’t elide anything, and it’s one thing to assume the audience doesn’t understand how these dreamverses work. But we do understand how human emotions work, and we already know she’s dead, so the laboriousness of that flashback isn’t necessary.

  • Jael says:

    JGL is the bee’s knees. He’s also capable of tremendous depth as an actor — really good in the little-seen The Lookout — and he gives an incredible performance in Mysterious Skin, which I can’t recommend to anyone because the subject matter is so effing horrifying, so take my word for it, please.

    DiCaprio is a black hole. Thought he was really the weak link here, but enjoyed the movie nonetheless, so good on ya, Christopher Nolan.

    Also: Tom Hardy. OH yes. Tom Hardy.

  • HollyH says:

    Okay, while we’re speaking of crush-objects… I have a question that maybe the folks here who have seen the movie can tell me about. I haven’t seen it yet.

    What I’m wondering is — how much is Ken Watanabe in it, actually? How much (if at all) does he have to do with the main action of the movie?

    This is one of those questions that has been impossible for me to figure out an answer to because it’s not the kind of spoiler anyone is going to talk about unless they too are a Ken Watanabe fan. And I admit… I was put off of the movie when it came out by the fact that all anyone seemed to talk about was all the characters played by young pretty white people. Which, if it’s their movie, fair enough, I guess. I had initially (I mean, a few years ago) gotten mildly excited about the movie because I knew Watanabe was going to be in it (and he’s just not in many U.S. films), and thus was experiencing let-down because it sounded like basically a cameo. (Don’t get me started on his “could have been cool but turned out to be an annoying bait-and-switch cameo in “Batman Begins” – Nolan, I appreciate that you seem to like to use him, but could you then, you know, USE him?)

    Anyway, I didn’t actually know anyone who’d seen the film whom I could ask this of, so I’ll throw it out there. If it’s basically, “Yeah, he’s in it for like the first 10 minutes and then never again”, that’s fine, I’m just curious at this point.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Holly, he’s heavily in it the first 30-45 minutes, and then sort of…intermittently? If what you’re asking is whether you should bother on a Watanabasis (hee): Yes. He’s not in every frame, by any means, but he’s in it enough. And he looks foine.

  • HollyH says:

    Okay, that IS good enough for me. (I’d been wavering based on the fact that the movie sounds — and looks, from the clips I’ve seen — interesting enough, but hadn’t been rushing to see it based on wondering how much my personal letdown factor would be. But yeah, that’s worth it.)

    Thanks! You can’t get that kind of info just anywhere, unfortunately…

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    ” I sat through that GI Joe movie because of him! ”

    Me too. My husband insisted on viewing that hot mess because he loves GI Joe with a passion that only a young lonely boy growing up in Maine, wearing a beach towel as a cape and throwing action figures up in gutters and trees, can love GI Joe, so I consoled myself throughout with JGL and that chick playing the Baroness as they struggled mightily to wrest an actual characterization from the thick CGI’d goo. But enough of that.*

    I love Inception–Nolan is one of my favored directors, mostly because of Memento, a film that refused to dumb itself down for me. And I feel the same way about Inception. It’s really not that difficult to follow, as long as you pay attention, and I loved the sets and the way the CGI was used in service to the story and nothing but.

    I felt the chemistry between DiCaprio and Cotilliard was spot on–full of rue and sorrow and the rage that keeps it all warm–and found this version of “I fucked up somehow and it’s all gone to hell” Leo more believable than the one from Shutter Island. I don’t think it’s a reflection of the actress’ talents–Michelle Williams and Cotillard are both wonderful performers who don’t back down from the hard stuff–but Leo’s just one of those talents that can only bring certain shades in conjunction with his co-star.

    Was he dreaming at the end? I felt the same “Oh wait, WHAT?” jerk that I did when I read “The Lady And The Tiger” back in high school, even though I pretty much knew the movie had to go that way.

    The plethora of male loveliness was a huge bonus–Watanabe, Hardy, Leavitt, DiCaprio–no matter your taste, there was a pretty to fulfill it. Thank you, Nolan!

    *Okay, just one more: I found a LOLcat meme a while ago showing JGL in one of his most adorable one-eyebrow-raised poses with the caption “Good Thing I Brought My Library Card, ‘Cause I Am CHECKING YOU OUT.” Oh, my, my.

  • Natalie says:

    @Vanamonde: That logic only works if you already take it as given that he’s not dreaming.

    Physics also does not allow for a top to spin forever, but if dream physics can let that happen, then it can deal with a wobble in the top.

  • Lois says:

    “JGL is the bee’s knees. He’s also capable of tremendous depth as an actor — really good in the little-seen The Lookout — and he gives an incredible performance in Mysterious Skin, which I can’t recommend to anyone because the subject matter is so effing horrifying, so take my word for it, please.”

    Jael is dead on with all of this. Definitely see “The Lookout” if you haven’t already and just take the JGL praise for “Mysterious Skin” on faith.

    I haven’t watched “Inception” again to test it out, but my theory is that the whole escapade was orchestrated by Michael Caine’s character in order to save Cobb from himself and bring him back for the children. I’m not quite sure how he did it, but it seems to me that he knows a lot about this world and could pull it off. Plus, he had his own insider in Ariadne. I didn’t quite buy any other reason that she would keep pushing Cobb so hard to face his demons.

  • Lis says:

    As for the is he/isn’t he debate re. the end. I just wanted to point out a couple of other “tells” that I had pointed out to me recently, the first and most amazing one is that the kids at the end are not in fact the kids from the rest of the film… check it out on IMDB… totally different actors, so there’s that. Also there was something about his ring… and now I totally forget what it was… perhaps in the dreams he wears his wedding ring in reality he does not? Shoot, now I forget which means I have to watch it AGAIN…

  • Drew says:

    I did find myself admiring how well they handled the exposition dumps

    Must respectfully disagree. The issue that I’ve had with a lot of Nolan’s work is that his plots aren’t really ones to blow your mind the way I was once told they do, so much as they just rely on piling one contrivance on top of another until the audience can’t see straight, or at least has forgotten what was happening in the first place. The complications that he’s written in the script for this one felt fairly useless to me, like the entire Cotillard flashback, but because they’re there, he needs to come up with still more contrivances to explain them away.

    The whole thing comes off like you’re watching two 8-year-olds playing Cops and Robbers. One says to the other, “I shot you.” The other says “Nuh uh, ’cause I was wearing, um, invisible armor, and so I wasn’t shot.” Watanabe’s character’s gonna die? Well, we can just bounce him down another level, and the shot version of him will dream he’s alive again, and so he is. Well, sure, why the hell not? Just doesn’t fly for me.

    What works about the film is mostly its technical aspects (although the score was terribly overbearing). I was impressed to learn just how much of it was done with practical special effects. I loved the scenes with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the hotel, bouncing off walls, and his performance, as others have said, is quite good.

    This could have been a good summer action picture, and I probably should have seen it then, but because I didn’t until after the Oscar nominations came out, I was looking at it through the lens of a Best Picture nominee. I was much more serious about it in that regard and wasn’t looking for a fun time. In the end, though, I admire Nolan for attempting to inject something that took it beyond dumb summer fun, but he overreached, and rather than thought-provoking, I just found it all to be utterly ludicrous.

  • Seth L says:

    Watanabasis – Hah! His accent is getting better too.

  • JK says:

    Loved the movie. Totally agree with your review. And really, I enjoyed it so much, I didn’t care about the construction holding up so much.

    But here’s a really cool infographic on it:

  • Todd K says:

    As I wrote in the Shutter Island thread, I was not looking forward to this so much but ended up having a great time too; I’m glad you didn’t hate it, SDB. It is fun to rewatch (once, anyway) with a full understanding of some of Leo’s early throwaway dialogue, the “What is she doing here?” reaction from JGL, etc. I *loved* Watanabe, and Page, and you-most-of-all-Scarecrow — a good cast top to bottom doing fine work. I didn’t even dislike the Cotillard segments, and her glowering look at LdC and EP when they’re safely on the elevator, leaving the crazy raging version of her in his psychic basement, was chilling. Well done, all around. If the DVD had a version of it that allowed you to watch without the score, I’d buy it.

  • Joan says:

    I just love that you felt the need to mention the vest. After exiting the theater, I couldn’t have cared less about the big “WAS IT REAL?!” ending. My mind was full of JGL and his vest. I liked the movie, but I totally would’ve been just as happy watching him floating around in zero-G in his vest for two and a half hours.

  • Maren says:

    I liked the movie well enough, but I wish the plot had been less snarled so the dream-worlds could have been more interesting. I felt like because they were trying to do tricky stuff on top of the setting, everyone’s dreams had to be really boring and straightforward (the snow one in particular really felt like a first-person shooter videogame level) so they didn’t conflict with the story, whereas I’d rather have seen something non-linear like del Torro or Lynch’s work that actually *felt* like a dream.

    JGL plus Tom Hardy has made a lot of people happy. Just saying.

  • Todd K says:

    Regarding the late Postlethwaite’s gallery of dads, good and bad: Did you ever see this one, Sarah? (Anyone else can chime in too.)

    I know I’ve taken up the topic once before that there is little reward in being a Davies fan. Either his financing falls through, or he manages to make the films but they’re spottily distributed and hard to find (especially outside the UK). It’s been a hard-luck career, and it’s a shame; he’s one of a kind, and even his one bad film (The Neon Bible) was an intriguing miss. I remember that you (SDB) somewhat liked his adaptation of the Wharton novel, so if you have not seen DVSL and ever come across it *somehow* (VHS tape at a cinephile’s yard sale, 3:00 a.m. DVR listing on Sundance Channel, whatever), check it out. Most postmortem pieces on Postlethwaite’s career did not even mention it; any writer who saw it could not have omitted it. It was one of his great peformances, and as disturbing an abusive father as I imagine has ever been committed to film. He was a new face/name to me at that time.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Todd: Davies’s adaptation of House Of Mirth was fantastic. I wrote a thesis on that book and had spent months bitching about the casting (Dan Aykroyd?!), but it was wonderfully done. Clearly he loved the novel and wasn’t cynical about its prospects.

  • Adrienne says:

    @Catherine: Nolan and the musical director have both stated that that musical motif WAS used on purpose. There is also a interesting interview with Nolan about how the movie is a allegory about making movies (“selling the dream” as it were.) Each character is a movie role- Cobbs is the director, Watanabe is the producer, Ariadne is the cinematographer, etc. Taking that into account, it’s a neat little twist that over the end credits they’re playing “Non, je ne regrette rien” until… the VERY end of the credits when it reverts to the BOOMMMP BOOMMMP blaring french horns of import because it’s time to leave the “dream.”

    This is also why it was not nominated for original score.

  • Deirdre says:

    I was more impressed with it than I was expecting, given that I am very much not a Nolan fan. And I was also surprised he didn’t get a directing nomination – much as I loved “The King’s Speech” I’d have put Nolan in over Hooper (or Darren “ShakyCam” Aronofsky).

    I think the Cobb/Mal thing probably felt necessary to the filmmakers because without it, the group’s entire escapade is about corporate one-upmanship. It’s the same problem I had with “The Prestige” – all of this is being done in service to something I don’t give a shit about and can’t figure out why I should. What “Inception” had that “The Prestige” lacked was enough fun stuff centering that hollow core that I was able to keep engaged and ignore the purpose behind it.

    And yeah, it’d be nice if Nolan gave Michael Caine something to do besides play Old Wise Cockney Exposition Fairy, but whatever. I guess they’re both happy with it.

  • cinderkeys says:

    I left the theater believing Cobb was dreaming. At the time it didn’t even occur to me that the final scene was meant to be ambiguous.

    Beyond the top spinning long past the point it should’ve (wobble or no), everything after Cobb supposedly leaving the dream world seemed vaguely dreamlike. I dunno. Something about the way he moves through the airport.

  • Meredith says:

    Loved this movie. Lovelovelove. It left me excited about the possibilities of film. Even Leo was non-annoying. (Don’t get me started on JGL and the vests. Yow.)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    “Old Wise Cockney Exposition Fairy” is the dirtiest non-dirty discriptor E-VAH.

  • LLyzabeth says:

    Chiming in to say that as much as I loved it the first time around, watching it the second time and figuring out all the parts I hadn’t QUITE understood really cemented the love. (I got the concept, but little things like exactly who the projections were targeting in each dream and why, I was fuzzy on it ’til the second watch.)

    And, of course, watching it the first time and figuring out exactly where I’d seen JGL before was awesome. “Huh. Who IS that guy. Oh! It’s the kid from Third Rock From the Sun! And he’s…..SEXY…..”)

  • Agnes says:

    I choose to believe that the ending wasn’t a dream,because “and none of this REALLY HAPPENED!!!!!!” is my biggest story-telling pet peeve ever, and I’d rather have thought the movie was worth watching. (Though, of course, JGL is always worth watching!)

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