Inception Review


The hype had been building up for months, years even—ever since “The Dark Knight” blew people’s minds in 2008. With the keys to the kingdom, just what was Christopher Nolan capable of? “Inception” answers that question—he’s capable of creating an absolutely wild world in which anything is possible and everything is believable. It’s a world where dreams and reality are interchangeable, where the most dangerous and most valuable commodities are ideas, and where your past, your secrets, your mistakes can follow you no matter how hard you try to escape. And somewhere in this world lies the most engaging, thought-provoking, confusing, rewarding cinematic experience in years.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a unique skill. He’s better than anyone in the world at what’s called extraction—or the infiltration of someone’s mind to obtain secrets or information. When a dream is created, the subject fills it with his or her subconscious and, unwillingly and unknowingly, his or her secrets. Cobb’s goes in and takes said secrets. With his trusted team of professionals, including his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), it’s easy enough for him. But Dom has no desire to continue his work. He’s getting sloppy, letting the memories of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) screw up a very important job. All he wants to do is retire and be with his kids, but he’s a fugitive and can’t return to America.

One man promises to change that. A wealthy industrialist, Saito (Ken Watanabe), promises to clear Dom’s name if he can do one job for him. Trick is, Saito doesn’t want Dom to perform extraction; he wants him to perform inception, which is thought impossible by everyone but Dom. Inception involves infiltrating the mind, but instead of taking something out, you put an idea in. But because truly original thoughts can only come from oneself, one must make the subject believe the idea was his or hers to begin with. Not an easy task, but Dom is up for the challenge, and brings along an all-star team. In addition to Arthur and Saito, there’s Eames (Tom Hardy), who can impersonate anyone, and Yusef (Dileep Rao), the chemist who concocts the sedative necessary to complete the job. Finally, there’s a newcomer, Ariande (Ellen Page), who serves as the architect of the dreams. It’s her job to build worlds complex enough that any foes they encounter will always be at least one step behind. And the subject of the inception: Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), Saito’s competitor’s son who stands to take over his father’s empire if Dom and his team can’t plant the idea that he should dissolve it.

A traditional plot description does the film no favors. Its biggest pleasures lie with the way Nolan develops original concepts and ideas. The film isn’t predictable because it can’t be. We just don’t know how this world works. For example, the best way to wake someone from a dream is to kill them. But when they are sedated, killing them puts them in limbo, a world of endless subconscious, for years, decades, maybe forever. And the way the dreams change according to what’s going on one level up is brilliant. The film’s best scene is when, because a car starts spinning out of control one level up, a dream hotel hallway starts spinning out of control, all while Arthur is fighting off some bad guys. It’s really a sight to see.

The film also packs an emotional punch with the subplot involving Mal haunting Dom’s mind. He’s not capable of creating dreams anymore (which is why he recruits Ariande) because Mal follows him wherever he goes. She has her motivations, and he has his. But their interactions are always brimming with longing and despair. And the way Nolan slowly unveils the depth of their tragic history ups the emotional quotient.

There are a lot of similarities between DiCaprio’s performance here and his performance earlier this year in Shutter Island. Both films make you question his reliability as a lead character, and both films make you question what is real. Dom teeters constantly on the edge of fearless leader and unstable basket case. He’s a walking contradiction, someone who steals other people’s secrets but builds up a nearly impenetrable prison to lock his away. But we pity him. We feel his pain and understand his desire to be with his kids and have some normalcy back in his life. I’m not sure whether he is stronger here or in “Shutter Island” (although I’m leaning toward Scorsese’s film). He deserves recognition in some form during awards season, and if it’s for his work in “Inception,” I certainly won’t complain.

The rest of the cast is star-studded and equally fantastic. The best-in-show award goes to Marion Cotillard. So good in everything she does, she is magnetic on screen. Her character is equal parts heartbreaking and scary in her determination, but she commands our attention. Tom Hardy is probably the film’s most enjoyable performance. He gives the film some nice comic relief, and proves he might be a good replacement for James Bond should Daniel Craig abandon the stalled franchise. Ellen Page drops the unbearable snark of “Juno” and gives a credible performance as Ariadne. My only complaint in the acting department is the underuse of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s fine, but his character isn’t given a ton to do.

I can’t write another word without mentioning the brilliant score by Hans Zimmer. The deafening bass and the pulse-pounding beats gave a tremendous sense of urgency to the film (and are giving me incredible inspiration while writing this review). I sincerely hope he is recognized as well later this year. The film features some gorgeous cinematography, fantastic editing, and brilliant art direction—none of which should come as a surprise to anyone. You can detract all you want from Nolan’s films, but you just can’t say they aren’t brilliantly assembled, and “Inception” is no exception.

“Inception” is the kind of film that demands repeat viewings (and I for one can’t wait to see it again). Few films engage the intellect the way this one did, and during one of the most lackluster summer movie seasons ever, this film is fresh, fun, and something to treasure. Is it the best of the year? I can’t say at this point. I’ll wait until I get to see it and Toy Story 3 again to make that determination. But based on first impressions alone, I’m giving it the edge to Pixar’s latest masterpiece. The originality or the concept and the execution, as well as the sheer guts by Nolan, make it the perfect anecdote to this year’s summer movie doldrums.

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