I will say this now, without reservation and fully confident that many will agree; Inception is easily the best big budget film of the year thus far. I’ll go further and say that it’s one of the most beautiful, well written, and fully realized high dollar films of the last five years. Inception, is close to perfection.
Christopher Nolan is the reigning king of the non-linear plot, and master of deeply layered narratives that hook audiences and reel them in slowly. He salvaged the reputation of The Dark Knight on the big screen, and retooled the psychological thriller. Nolan’s body of work is compact, with seven films over twelve years — the most recent being Inception; and what an addition to the collection it is.
Inception is the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a thief of the mind called an extractor who enters the dreams of high powered individuals and steals their secrets via an architect. The architect is responsible for building the world of the dreamer, convincing them their surroundings are real. Dom is assisted by his friend and colleague Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the voice of reason in Dom’s life. We’re brought into the main part of the story in the middle of an extraction, in the mind of sleeping energy company CEO Saito (Ken Watanabe). What seems to be a routine extraction turns into what the entire film ends up being; a question of what is what, when, and who is aware. Much of the groundwork is laid early on, though true to fashion, Nolan makes sure we’re not aware of it.
Dom and Arthur are at an architect-built compound, attempting to lead Saito’s subconscious through the process of tipping his hand and leading them to his greatest secrets. During this event we’re introduced to the mysterious Mal (Marion Cotillard) — whose appearance disturbs Arthur. Mal and Dom have a relationship, the details of which we’re not immediately aware. All we know, is Dom can’t trust her.
Very soon the dream is compromised, Saito aware that they are in his subconscious mind and Mal holding Arthur at gunpoint. Here we learn some rules — if you die in the dream, you simply wake up, but being injured does not have the same result, however. Dom kills (wakes) an injured Arthur, and we’re introduced to the other side of the dream. Cobb is asleep, as is Saito; both hooked intravenously to the machine that makes extractions possible. It is here, through a series of events I won’t ruin, that we learn about the concept of dreams within dreams.
Back in the real world, Saito has learned the identity of Cobb and his team, and intercepts them during their attempt to disperse to different corners of the earth. Instead of busting them, Saito has a proposition; put together a crack team of dream thieves, and accomplish something thought to be impossible — instead of stealing an idea, plant one. Saito wants his competitor, heir to a rival energy giant Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to dissolve his company and thus destroy what will soon be a monopoly. In return for succeeding, he need but make a call to erase what turned Cobb to crime in the first place — the blame for killing his wife, and his fleeing the States in response. Arthur balks, but Cobb insists it’s been done before — he takes the job. Cobb has the pull and reputation to assemble this team, but his personal demons, which happen to have the ability to physically manifest during his infiltration of a dreamer’s mind, will make the difference between success and failure with the most severe of consequences.
Thus, the story gathers speed. Nolan pulls together a top notch cast to fill out the world of Inception. Ellen Page is great as Ariadne, Cobb’s new and highly talented architect. I’ve dug Page since Hard Candy, and this is yet another role to add to the win box. Her introduction to the world of ultimate lucid dreaming seems natural, even in the short time she has to acclimate to the idea. Page plays Ariadne with both strength and vulnerability all at the same time. She, in many ways, becomes more of an asset to Cobb than long-time partner Arthur when it comes to dealing with deeper issues. While Arthur probably knows Dom better than anyone, he’s not emotionally open enough to say many of the things that Ariadne does.
On Arthur, once again — Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays yet another part to subtle perfection. Gordon-Levitt picked a fantastic vehicle to step out of the indie circuit and into a big budget production. Arthur is the rock to Cobb’s sometime erratic shifting-sand personality. They are a complimentary team, and it’s a pleasure to see their interaction on screen.
The biggest surprise, to me, was Leonardo DiCaprio. Not since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape have I felt fully connected to anything he’s done on film. In almost everything he’s done to this point, the impression I’ve always been left with was that I was watching DiCaprio perform a part — but always being present. Be it Romeo, Howard Hughes, or Jim Carroll — it was always that character as presented through the prism of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Not so in Inception. DiCaprio is Dom Cobb. DiCaprio sells the film the moment he’s on screen, and you’re invested in him from start to finish. Dom spends most of the film attempting to mute his own emotions, hiding his painful secrets. When he’s finally no longer able to keep them under wraps, DiCaprio puts on an incredible performance.
Ken Watanabe brings heart to Saito, a man who is morally black nor white, and provides the audience a connection to him that’s much appreciated. Tom Hardy has a ton of slick swagger as the forger Eames, and Dileep Rao does much with limited screen time as the chemist, Yusuf. As stated, Nolan’s team does a bang-up job of putting together a monstrously talented cast, and each does their part to bring the world of Inception to life.
In reading back over this review, I think it important to note that for as much as it may seem like I’ve given away, I’ve really only scratched the surface. In a lot of ways, reader — I’ve not told you much of anything. That is the really amazing thing about the ten years of work that Christopher Nolan put into bringing this story to the big screen. Inception has a very cerebral plot, big on emotion and deeply connected to the exploration of the subconscious — but it’s an action film, and a beautiful one. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is second to none, and the digital effects work is seamless. I think this is one of the few films in recent memory where nothing that I saw registered as a computer generated image in my mind. It’s a real treat not being taken out of the story by something I’ve seen on screen; acting or otherwise. Parts of Inception are like watching an Escher lithograph come to life, which, you know — is awesome. Coupled with Hans Zimmer’s masterful score, Inception is not only a treat visually, but matched by the music from the first scene on.
Inception is what The Wachowskis wish the rest of The Matrix films after the first could have been; a head trip with outrageous action sequences and a strong emotional attachment to the story. Inception is its own animal, but that doesn’t change that it succeeds in all departments where the rest of that trilogy missed the mark. Nolan proves again, that he’s wholly capable of bringing his unique voice and vision to the screen in a way that few writer/directors can.
See this movie, in theaters. Inception will be well worth your time and cash.
The Upside: The cast is perfection, as are the visuals and music. Christopher Nolan gives us the first really great movie of the summer.
The Downside: I’d have to make something up.
On the Side: Christopher Nolan didn’t allow Hans Zimmer to see any of the film while scoring it. Knowing this, pay special attention to the music and be blown away by the results.