After The Dark Knight managed to draw critical acclaim and huge box-office earnings in 2008 it was hardly a surprise that director Christopher Nolan became a Hollywood golden boy overnight. Such a lofty status in the film industry is probably the key reason for the existence of Inception, a passion project for its creator, but more interestingly a $160 million blockbuster that really requires the audience to think. Warner Bros. have put an intense marketing campaign behind the mind bending production, something that filmgoers should be hoping pays off. Inception doesn’t immediately strike a celebratory chord, but on reflection it becomes evident how brave and intelligent a motion picture it really is, and one that isn’t afraid to keep some of its secrets hidden beyond the end credits.
Inception deals with the idea of dreams, and more specifically a form of technology that allows people to access or break into the dreams of others. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the master of dream theft, known as extraction, and involving the thief accessing someone else’s dreams and stealing the subject’s secrets when there. Cobb and companion Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are recruited by businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) for a very special form of mission, one that involves inception and not the typical act of extraction. Inception requires those entering the dream to insert thoughts rather than steal them, and it is a job thought long impossible. Cobb however knows it to be an attainable goal, having mysteriously performed an inception earlier in his career. Arthur accepts the usual payment, but Cobb requires further convincing, Saito ultimately offering him the one thing he craves above all else. If Cobb completes the mission, then the legal charges that have kept him out of the USA and separated from his children will be dropped.
Cobb accepts and along with Arthur recruits a crack team to complete the job, the target being the son (Cillian Murphy) of a dying business competitor of Saito’s.
Cobb finds an architect (the person who builds the dreams) Ariadne (Ellen Page) and teams up with an old accomplice called Eames (Tom Hardy), who can handily impersonate anybody within a dreamscape. Together the group find an opportunity to enter the targets mind, and jump in with the expectation that over three levels of dreaming they will be able to implant the corporate idea that Saito wants placed in the subject’s thoughts. However upon reaching the dream world complications arise, not least Mal (Marion Cotillard) the ghost of Cobb’s dead wife and a lethal interference threat during the job.
Inception is meticulously plotted and beautifully edited, two qualities vital in a narrative with so much going on at any given time. It isn’t always easy to keep tabs on all the individual details in the movie, but with focus and a little patience the main story is fairly easy to stay atop of. It is possible to argue that Inception maybe throws one plot mechanism too many at the audience, at times the picture does feel complicated to a slightly excessive degree, albeit concerning only minor movements in the story. Apparently the script took Nolan a decade to craft, and it’s easy to see why, the film has so much going on beneath the bonnet that stitching it all together without glaring plot holes would take several drafts and stacks of patience. Still, it all seems worth it now as Nolan has created a motion picture quite unlike anything else, dealing in a thoroughly unique idea and revelling in complicated themes and moments of psychological depth. It’s rather delightful to find a July blockbuster with quite so much brain power, a film with an obvious desire to both mentally stimulate and frantically bamboozle its audience.
DiCaprio is excellent as Cobb, the actor once again showcasing why he has morphed into one of his generation’s most promising screen talents. The film finds much of its meat within Cobb’s fractured mind and tragic history, allowing DiCaprio to find a level of humanity and meaning in his performance that gives Inception a beating heart from start to finish. Cobb is the only character in the screenplay that has his past dug up with any degree of specificity, but DiCaprio brings enough heat and subtle emotional distress to make the part compelling. Ellen Page is warm and smart as the team’s new architect, she’s as new to the idea of dream invasion as the audience and thus she provides the viewer with another relatable screen presence. Page also sources out several dramatically rich moments with DiCaprio, rendering her performance the most effective after the leading man’s. The likes of Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy , Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dileep Rao all do well with lesser roles, bringing charm and believability to a group only important as part of Cobb’s squad. Marion Cotillard does solid work as Mal, popping up and playing the part with more restraint and insight than most actresses would likely have applied.
Visually the film is spectacular, but the aesthetic wonderment serves the story and not vice versa. Inception is a film focused on unearthing ideas and exploring the desperate state of its main character, the fact it all unfolds inside a flawless digital wonderland is just a secondary element. In honesty despite the sheer creativity and scale of the set-pieces Nolan has constructed, it’s the film’s seamless editing which impresses most, allowing the sprawled out and incredibly dense plot to hold together and make sense even in the picture’s most crazed and exposition heavy moments of dream travel. The final act in particular benefits from this as Inception flits between the different layers of dreaming rapidly, whilst still keeping the audience in a state of blissful engagement throughout. Indeed by its conclusion the picture almost achieves an ethereal dreamlike state of its own, a well judged and ambitious stylistic choice for sure.
Inception pummels towards it’s denouement with several well executed action sequences (though nothing quite as sharp as the blockbusting content of The Dark Knight) before arriving at a rewarding and fulfilling final showdown. The film appears to round out its story neatly and with a good deal of artistic poignancy, but on its very last note Inception throws a shockingly ambiguous spanner in the works. As a film it consistently demands that you utilize your intellect in order to keep pace, but the finish ensures that viewers will continue to ponder long after Inception has climaxed. Nolan demands that his audience process the movie and its core ideas, in order to make their own minds up concerning the whole brilliant enterprise.
Inception is one of the best films of the year so far, and will likely at least in the technical and writing categories be a player during next year’s awards season. It’s a loopy but stunningly innovative property, constructed by talented filmmakers who seek to make clever scripting and awe-inspiring imagination the key ingredients within their motion pictures. It’s probably not Nolan’s greatest achievement, but it’s a tremendous effort none the less and one that seems especially intrepid given some of the guff that inhabits multiplexes during the summer season. Inception is a must see film, and despite a handful of minor flaws, it’s an obvious victory for those who like to have their brains properly entertained.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
Runtime: 148 min
Country: USA, UK