Inception's one of those movies you absolutely must engage your brain to understand and enjoy. Get your popcorn and sodas before the first frame or go without - you don't want to miss a minute for fear of losing track of the story. But Inception not only demands your attention it earns it by never letting the effects overwhelm the characters, never settling for an easy out or taking storytelling shortcuts, and by keeping the pace brisk and the action stunningly inventive.
Inception - The StoryInception is all about a new form of corporate espionage: the ability to steal ideas while the owner's dreaming. This is done by means of an 'extraction' team. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) heads up the most successful such team, with Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the point man who helps set up the scheme. They'll be joined for their riskiest mission by Ariadne as the architect (Ellen Page) who creates the perfect dreamscape, and Eames (Tom Hardy) as a forger/master of disguise. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is in charge of administering the drugs used to keep the team and its target in the dream state and who ultimately makes sure they all exit the dream safely.
When we first are introduced to Cobb, a conflicted man who cannot return to his family in the States for a reason that's left unexplained for much of the film, he's in the middle of trying to extract a secret from a powerful businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe). The mission doesn't go as planned, but it does lead to a job offer Cobb can't refuse. In exchange for planting an idea in someone's head, Saito offers Cobb the opportunity to return to the US to be reunited with his family. That offer's impossible for Cobb to resist as he desperately misses his two small children, although planting an idea means the team will be entering uncharted territory.
The target of the job is Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy), the heir to a multibillion-dollar corporation. Saito wants Fischer to break up his father's company so the team must plant that seed in Fischer's subconscious. How they go about tackling this mission, how they handle the complexities involved in journeying through a stranger's mind, and the emotional turmoil Cobb experiences as he spends extended periods of time in the dream state with - no spoilers here - someone whose presence both disturbs and thrills him, makes for an incredibly tense thrill ride of a film you have to experience to understand.
The ActingLeonardo DiCaprio is having a terrific year with both Shutter Island and Inception clear examples of why he's one of the most sought-after and respected actors of his generation. DiCaprio doesn't go big when small will do, and that can also be said of the rest of the cast.
Ellen Page may be diminutive in stature but as Ariadne, the sole female member of the extraction team, she's a fearsome presence. And as the chemist who handles the dream-inducing drugs, Dileep Rao (Avatar) is responsible for the film's lighter moments, of which there are very few, and he handles the task of providing comic relief well. Marion Cotillard (Nine) isn't part of the team (and I've deliberately left mentions of her character out so as not to spoil the film) but she does play a key role in Inception. Cotillard gets better with each project, and she's simply breathtaking and heartbreaking as a pivotal player in Nolan's twisted drama.
Ken Watanabe is a terrific actor but I have to say that if there's anything about Inception that I was a little disappointed in it was the occasional scene in which Watanabe was a little difficult to understand because of his heavy accent. It's a minor annoyance and it only flared up a few times. And last but not least, Tom Hardy's a real scene-stealer as a forger who can kick ass and steal identities.
The Bottom LineInception makes a clear case for why the Academy Awards should honor ensemble efforts. Every member of Nolan's team pulls his/her weight in Inception and, as complex as this story is, one bad apple could have spoiled the entire film. The story revolves around Leonardo DiCaprio's character, however every one of the key roles is fully fleshed out, every actor is pitch perfect. Normally in a production of this size there's a character or two you sort of forget are even in the film after you've left the theater. That's not likely to happen with any of the characters in Inception.
Nolan opted to go with as little CG as possible and to involve his actors in as many stunts as they could safely handled. That adds a level of realism to the film with the characters seeming to be in real peril. From the gorgeous sequence featured in the trailer with Ellen Page and Leonardo DiCaprio sitting at a table outside a Paris cafe while all around them storefronts burst into the air to a white-knuckle crash scene with a van filled with the team out of control and rolling down a hill to a high speed shoot 'em up sequence in the Alps to our heroes underwater in distress, Nolan's decision to do as much in camera as possible is shown over and over again to have been absolutely the right choice. There's an extra weight and grittiness to each of the action scenes that wouldn't have been there if they were CG creations.
Cinematographer Wally Pfister and editor Lee Smith may have had the most difficult jobs on Inception, but the results of their hard work is award-worthy. The film deals with waking reality and multiple levels of dreaming, and Pfister and Smith helped pull off Nolan's vision without making a single misstep.
Inception isn't so much just a movie to sit through in an air-conditioned theater as it is a genuine cinematic experience. It's actually a little draining both mentally and physically, but not in a negative way. You become so immersed in this world Nolan's created that sitting through Inception takes a little time to recuperate from, and you'll be replaying scenes in your head for days trying to answer a few lingering questions. Worth every penny spent in the making, and worth every dollar forked over for a ticket, Inception may just be the best movie of 2010. As of mid-July, it's at the top of my list for all of 2010's releases thus far.
Inception was directed by Christopher Nolan and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.
Theatrical Release: July 16, 2010