After the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” back in 2010, I wrote a review on my earlier blog site praising the film. After several more viewings, I would continue to applaud this production and it was easily my favorite film of that year. But as excited as I was over “Inception”, I still don’t think my previous review did justice to what has become one of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, I said of all time! I still find “Inception” to be one of the most original and most ambitious movies I’ve ever seen. But ambition doesn’t always equal a great movie. “Inception” not only aims high but it succeeds in creating a brilliant and unique picture that’s unlike anything I’ve seen.
It’s hard to pigeonhole “Inception”. It’s a heist film, a tragic romance, science-fiction, and an action film. But the best thing is it uses all of these ingredients flawlessly. The bulk of its success can be traced right back to Nolan. For my money Christopher Nolan is one of our greatest working directors. He wrote , co-produced, and directed this film and I truly believe he’s one of the only visionary filmmakers who could have pulled this off. It took him almost ten years to write and rewrite the script and it took the huge success of “The Dark Knight” to secure the big budget needed to make “Inception”. But you sure can’t argue with the results of the finished product. “Inception” ended its box office run making over $825 million worldwide.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor Nolan had wanted to work with for some time. He plays “Dom” Cobb, a dream thief for lack of a better title. He, along with his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are paid to infiltrate the subconsciouses of their targets via their dreams and steal information. When the dream extraction from a wealthy Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb and Arthur find out they were being tested. Instead of extracting information, Saito wants the them to attempt inception on a business rival of his. The idea of inception is that instead of stealing information you plant it in the target’s subconscious while they’re dreaming. There are questions as to whether inception is even possible but Cobb is enticed to take the job when Saito promises to use his influence to clear Cobb’s name of a mysterious murder charge that has kept him out of the United States and separated from his two children.
To do the job Cobb needs a top-notch team of experts. Eames (Tom Hardy) is basically a forger or probably better described as an impersonator. Once inside a dream he has the ability to take on the identity of anyone. Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the architect. She is able to construct mental labyrinths inside the dreamers subconscious. This is essential if the team is going to know their way around the dream. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is basically the team’s pharmacist. He’s the one who controls the sleep via his numerous concoctions. Saito also insists on going and keeping an eye on his “investment”. Nolan takes us through the formation of the team, bits of their training, and of course their attempt at inception. As the story moves forward Nolan plays with our minds as he begins placing dreams within dreams and he causes his audience to pay close attention as their well planned heist encounters more and more complications.
One thing I’ve always loved about a Christopher Nolan film is his ability to put to gather the perfect cast. This may be his best yet. DiCaprio has been a critic’s darling with several of his performances, but I think this is one of his very best. Cobb knows his business but he’s a tortured man with loads of emotional baggage. Leo handles all of this perfectly. I also loved Tom Hardy here and he steals nearly every scene he’s in. Eames is a confident wisecracker and some of his best scenes are when he’s giving Arthur a hard time. Speaking of Arthur, Gordon-Levitt gives another strong performance and he has one particular action sequence that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. And then there’s Ellen Page who I liked as Ariadne. Her character is new to the dream scene and she brings a needed sense of caution and reality to the mission.
But there are some other great performances that are important to the story and worth mentioned. One of my favorites was Marion Cotillard as Mal. She has a special bond with Cobb and repeatedly appears within the dreams potentially compromising the mission. Cotillard’s performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Michael Caine, a Nolan favorite, is very good as Cobb’s father-in-law and caregiver of his children. Cillian Murphy plays the team’s central target for inception and he too is a great fit for his role. It was also great to see Tom Berenger given a nice role to work with and the great Peter Postlethwaite in what would be his last performance before his death due to pancreatic cancer. All of these performers are sharply in tune with the material and the cast serves as just one of the movie’s many high points.
Nolan is also a visual filmmaker and there is some incredibly eye candy in “Inception”. The movie was filmed in locations all over the world including Tokyo, Morocco, Paris, and Alberta. Each of these places have their own separate and distinct look and feel to them within the movie whether they take place in reality or in a dream. This was an intentional move by Nolan who wanted to place his film in the contemporary world while also playing with our perceptions of what is real and what’s not. And of course since we’re talking about dreams, Nolan has a spectacular and diverse visual sandbox to play in. He wows us with several amazing special effects sequences that include rotating hotel rooms, trains barreling down big city boulevards, and a shootout at a fortified arctic base. “Inception” hits you with one spectacular set piece after another and all of this gels nicely with the movie’s deep and layered story.
“Inception”isn’t a movie with a straightforward by-the-books narrative. It’s a film that requires you to pay attention and I like that. I’ve talked with people who didn’t care for the movie because of its complexities and I can’t help but be puzzled. So many movies are simple and formulaic genre films that never challenge their audiences in any way. For me it’s refreshing to have something completely original and fresh and I appreciate how the film doesn’t dumb things down for the audience. I’m also amazed at just how well this complex story unwraps. Nolan constantly throws new kinks into his story to the point where I questioned whether he could bring it all together. But like a skilled and crafty pro he pulls everything in during the last 20 minutes, right up to the beautiful final shot. And that final scene, well it gets a little misty for me every single time.
For me everything in “Inception” works. The special effects, the action sequences, Nolan’s phenomenal script, the incredible cast, Hans Zimmer’s pulse pounding score. This is why I go to the movies. There’s nothing conventional about “Inception” and there’s no way to watch it and not appreciate its craftsmanship. That said be prepared to think. The story is a bit of a challenge but that’s just another joy I get from watching it. I understand it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it gives me everything I want in a motion picture experience. For me this is a modern cinematic masterpiece.
VERDICT – 5 STARS