The Good: Great visuals, Wonderful acting, Cool plot, Interesting characters.
The Bad: None that I could find!
The Basics: Another masterwork by writer/director Christopher Nolan, "Inception" is a ridiculously smart, confusing and visually exceptional psychological drama worth seeing!
What do you do when you're both hailed as a creative genius and are put in charge of one of the most lucrative superhero franchises of the decade? At some point, you stop playing in other people's universes and you go out and create your own. That seems to be the lesson from Christopher Nolan with Inception. The director, who had a knockout debut with Memento and dominated Summer Blockbuster Season two years ago with The Dark Knight is here to stun audiences once again with Inception. And while most reviews will undoubtedly gush almost exclusively about the special effects, what makes Inception so special is that it is well-written, has amazing performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Inception is the opportunity all of us who missed seeing Dark City in the theaters have been waiting for ever since, though this tense drama tries to keep far more grounded in the realistic than the fantastic world of the Alex Proyas work. While Inception has been billed by Warner Brothers as a science fiction, outside the initial premise, Inception is far more a dramatic thriller than anything truly science fiction-oriented. In fact, this usurps the crime heist genre and helps to create a surprisingly psychologically-driven story.
Using technology developed by a mentor of his, Dom Cobb is the ultimate operative in the world of industrial espionage. He enters the dreams of those he needs information from their subconscious mind. Unfortunately for him, his career is on the slide and he has been hunted in the real world for what are perceived as his failures at subconscious security. Cobb is brought a mission that will not only pay him and his team well, but will offer him the chance to return home to his children. As Robert Fischer's health wanes, he looks to turn his massive corporation over to his son, Robert Fischer, Jr. Cobb is sent to implant a thought into the mind of the son, instead of steal one, an act of inception. If Cobb and his team can get him to split his company up, their employer will see great gains.
After training and preparation, Cobb, Ariadne, Arthur and Eams enter Fischer's dream to attempt inception. But once there, Ariadne's world begins to take some frightening turns and Cobb and his team are hunted by a figure who should not be allowed to influence them. As the team descends into dreams within dreams, they must respond to the changing landscape of Fischer's mind, an act severely complicated by gunplay and agents of Fischer's mind hunting the team!
Inception, as one might expect from the director of Memento is psychologically smart and revealing of a much deeper series of concepts than the simple heist film or action-adventure flick is usually capable of. Cobb is likable and in his scenes with Miles, his mentor, he is vulnerable and honest. He is at his most human and despite all that came before and all that comes after, it is hard not to see him as a family man who is trying to do right by his children. Also like Christopher Nolan's cinematic rendition of Bruce Wayne, Cobb has his damage and Nolan is an expert at expressing that throughout the film. In fact, Nolan gets a performance out of Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Cobb, that no other director seems able to get. The performance is nuanced and DiCaprio sheds his stony exterior at key moments to flinch and look weakened in his eyes, which makes the character feel like he is that much more motivated by circumstances that have left him damaged.
Smartly, Nolan does not hinge everything on Cobb, who has moments of ruthless efficiency that make it hard to sympathize with his plight in the dreamworld. Instead, he adds Ariadne as emotional ballast and Arthur, who does not simply crack wise, but does provide several of the film's best moments of catharsis for the audience. Ariadne (no points off for Nolan, who wrote Inception as well as directed it, who gives a character a classic name that is actually a clever allusion) is almost instantly empathetic and her relationship with both Miles and Cobb gives her a perspective that the audience comes to appreciate as the movie continues.
Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do great jobs as Ariadne and Arthur, who join Nolan regulars Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy. Gordon-Levitt has been hailed by many for his recent works (all of which I have seemed to miss), but he easily overcomes the mental image one might have of him from Third Rock From The Sun. In Inception, he is dry and surprisingly commanding as Arthur. Similarly, as Ariadne, Ellen Page has the choice opportunity to do something for a character other than look adorable or open her mouth and bug out her eyes in shock. As Ariadne, Page holds her own against the physical heavies of Inception by giving a performance that makes her character seem blisteringly intelligent, imaginative and emotionally expressive. This is one of Page's best roles and it is truly unlike anything she has ever done before on screen.
Like all of the best psychologically-driven films and thrillers, there are twists to be had and there is something the director wants to say about the human condition. Christopher Nolan has a twist and it's a decent one in Inception, but much more important is what Nolan wants to say about the human condition. If Batman Begins was a film about fear and The Dark Knight was about the nature of heroism in a world where order and chaos are at severe odds, Inception is an intriguing mix of explorations on greed and guilt. Ultimately, Cobb and his team have motivations that are less than pure. While Ariadne's role is occasionally one which allows her to feel an academic attachment to her actions, Cobb, Eames and Arthur are unable to live in such denial. They are calculating men who place the law on the backburner for their own personal ambitions and reputations. Nolan's visually-powerful examples of the lengths they go to for greed is one of the most poignant statements of the movie.
But what is equally poignant is the element of guilt and loss. While Ariadne tries to assuage Cobb's sense of self-incrimination in the death of his wife, Nolan smartly does not let Cobb off so easily. His loss runs deep and it plays into the twists and turns of the dreamworld he and his team find themselves in. As the dreamscape becomes more - for lack of a better term - trippy and dangerous, it is unsurprising that Cobb's own issues motivate some of the chaos.
That, as well as unraveling the turns in plot and character, is where Inception becomes both incredibly fun and exceptionally engaging to watch. Traveling through the dreams and navigating the mind is something that Nolan and his production team make incredible. Inception does look awesome and with the soundtrack, Inception is as much a mood piece as it is a psychological thriller. But those looking for a great summer movie need not worry; it entertains exceptionally well as it unfolds.
Ultimately, Christopher Nolan creates a movie for Summer Blockbuster season that will keep viewers thinking well into Oscar Pandering Season. Should the Academy recall this gem, this might well be Nolan's best chance for the Best Picture Oscar he has deserved. Visually, it is stunning. Plotwise, it feels fresh even when there are conceits fans of the psychological thriller are likely to see coming. But even more than all that, Nolan has a brilliant film for Summer Blockbuster Season which is almost impossible to appreciate with only a single viewing. Seeing is a second time in IMAX was worth the money. Inception is a movie which works on a literal and a metaphorical level almost impossible to capture the full depth of on a single viewing.
Wanting, eagerly awaiting, seeing it again, is the easy mark of a perfect film and Christopher Nolan has all the trappings of a blockbuster and a perfect film with Inception.
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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