I just got back from watching "Inception." I actually finished it, unlike several patrons who walked out.
The first thing that came to mind when I got home was to pull up Mark Twain's essay on James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. Picking over the list, it is remarkable how much of it applies to Nolan's work.
First, the dialog is terribly written, lacking in imagination and completely unremarkable. About halfway through I realized where Nolan got his inspiration for flat, dull dialog delivered in a flat, dull manner: soap operas. Something was eating me about the delivery (which is not the fault of the actors - they took the direction as best they could) and my mind wandered back to the uninspired, flat and meaningless delivery of several soap operas I've been subjected to over the years. It's awful, not at all how people act in real life and a slog to sit through.
Second, Chadbang makes an excellent point about the endless, overbearing exposition. That does not happen in real life - only in movies. Bad movies, for that matter.
Third, zero, and I mean zero, character development. Who are these people? Why should I care about them? Are these people I would want to know in real life? Could I predict how they'd behave in a given situation after seeing them onscreen for 150 minutes? They're all flat and lifeless. Like action figures or video game characters thrown up on the screen.
Fourth, this is not an "intellectual" movie. It's grindhouse pap. Just because you throw in a dream element does not mean that deep thinking is going on. Dream sequences have been done for decades. Everyone "gets it" and there's no mental leap required to understand the action. It's a pretentious shootemup which gives you absolutely zero insight into the characters or, lacking that, any understanding into the human condition.
Fifth, Nolan relies entirely too much on deus ex machina. Every time he writes himself into a corner, he metaphorically pulls something out of his anus to keep the house of cards standing. It's a sign of a poorly thought-out concept, poor writing and poor structure.
Sixth, the soundtrack stuck out and seemed inappropriate. It frequently went into sonorous, dreary soap opera mode. Also, this might be the fault of the theater, but it was too damned loud.
Finally, the ending was screamingly predictable. It's a longstanding cliche that dream sequences are supposed to end with casting doubt on whether what you just saw was real or actually a dream. I sat there and wondered for two hours if Nolan was going to end with the typical dream sequence cliche. Of course he did - you always go for the cliche when you lack imagination. Just the same way that you substitute pointless action for interaction between characters and letting the audience get to know them.
What did I like?
The production values were high and I didn't see any glaring camera mistakes. The CGI mostly integrated well, the editing was well done, and the cinematography was very good. The imagery was striking and good throughout.
Also, the actors are good actors. But they were given nothing much to work with.
For those of you who thrive on lifeless characters, flat dialogue and zero insight into life or humanity, let me ask you two questions:
How many of the Great Books or generally recognized classic novels have you read?
How many of AFI's Top 100 Movies have you watched?
If you've been through cherished classics such as these (well worth a Netflix membership and a library card, by the way), you'll see how one-dimensional Nolan's movies in comparison. Ten years on, people will look back at "Inception" as pure junk. The dialogue is dreadful and leaden while you'll find works from 50, 100, 200, or even 2,000 years ago where you'll identify with the characters and come to enjoy them as people. That's the point of entertainment - not throwing a grenade down a tunnel, car chases or shooting at each other.
Edited by Uncle Erik - 7/26/10 at 7:16pm