|“I have everything under control…” – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Were I young(er) with the means and without a care or obligation in the world, Christopher Nolan would probably be the force which would propel me into film school. Acknowledging that bias, let me come clean – I am a huge Nolan fan. He simply has not yet come close to failing with me, never delivering less than a 4-star film on this site’s 5-star scale. So, all cards out on the table, I will try and minimize my use of exaggerated adjectives in writing about his latest film, “Inception.” Just know after seeing his latest work, it will be hard.
Hard, because “Inception” serves as Nolan’s third masterpiece behind “Memento” and “The Dark Knight.” I cannot state it more simply than that. “Inception” has threads of familiarity in its style, feel, and appearance, but the vision is unmistakably Christopher Nolan’s. On a big budget, on such a large scale, Nolan has crafted a deep thinking, impressively staged event movie, stronger than I imagined, and one that you would be foolish to miss. If he is not yet viewed as such, Nolan’s “Inception” will cement his status in the pantheon of the greatest directors and storytellers of recent memory.
“Inception”, also written by Nolan, is essentially the classic heist film setup. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a team of skilled thieves in pulling off that One Last Job. Rather than robbing banks, this team specializes in robbing dreams and Cobb is the best of the best. As an “Extractor”, Cobb patrols through a person’s subconscious state, stealing ideas and raiding people’s most personal thoughts and secrets. Cobb however carries some ulterior motives.
Cobb’s team secures an interview of sorts with a Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who has concocted a different kind of job for Cobb and his team. Rather than hiring them to extract an idea, Saito offers Cobb the compelling proposition of inception; essentially, the reverse of what Cobb and his team is so skilled at. Instead of extraction, Saito hires Cobb’s team to implant an idea into the mind of Saito’s chief business rival, Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), an idea which Fischer must believe to be his own. If all goes as planned, Fischer will terminate his billion-dollar family corporation. Cobb is instantly desperate to take this new offer, seeing it as the last job necessary in achieving his goal of getting back home to his wife (Marion Cotillard) and family. Over the doubts of some of Cobb’s most skilled colleagues, a deal is reached and the intricacies of the plan, and the movie, begin to take shape.
The deal leads Cobb to his father-in-law and mentor in the extraction technique, Miles (Michael Caine). Cobb needs a new architect – the person who crafts and constructs the dreamworld which the team will operate in. Miles offers his best student, Ariadne (Ellen Page), who meets Cobb and is eager, a bit confused, and yet apt for the new challenge. The initial scenes with Cobb and Ariadne are some of the film’s most difficult to navigate inasmuch as they lay the groundwork for the rules of the dream world. While some have complained that Nolan may not trust his material enough in these scenes, or that spelling out the rules in this fashion may come off patronizing or reflect a sort of talking down to the viewer, I would counter that these scenes are vital for the viewer – serving as our buy-in, our interview of sorts, to the movie about to unfold before us.
Quickly dubbed by Cobb as “The Architect”, Ariadne soon realizes that Cobb’s story is infinitely more layered than originally let on, and she may be orchestrating a whole lot more than a dreamscape for Saito’s plan. Page is strong in the role of the young and brilliant student projecting a voice of reason to the whole undertaking. Ariadne is steadfast in reminding Cobb that with this dangerous of a job, focus is everything.
Where “Inception” draws the easiest praise comes from the visual effects and the striking, memorable images Nolan has brought to the screen. In many ways, Nolan’s technique and skill through his preceding films have built to these moments. Michael Caine commented, in a recent featurette on the production, that Nolan is going back and making movies they way they were meant to be made. Ouch. Certainly a credible zinger to those directors who feel that emotion and engagement can be achieved synthetically. Oh, sure…Nolan lines his film with stunning and state-of-the-art CGI effects, the cubed city for example already spoiled in the trailers for the film. Most impressive is what you haven’t seen yet, including one jaw-dropping and astonishing extended crosscut between a falling van and a hotel lacking the existence of gravity. Occurring late in the film, “Inception” delivers, for my money, the most extraordinary action sequence I have witnessed in easily the last several years. That a portion of it ends with a matter of calm adds to the uneasy spectacle of the whole thing.
As the film unfolds, we are always slightly off-kilter a bit, especially in trying to analyze what is real and what is not. As Cobb’s team works feverishly to complete the job, we find ourselves traveling in and around different dreamscapes. Level One carries its own set of rules different than Level Two, and the foreboding Level Three, where the inception procedure must take place offers an additional set of parameters. Spiking in doses of reality along the way, the puzzle pieces are always on the table, and Nolan allows you a couple of different ways of locking it all together.
Some have taken the film to task for a lack of character development and the curious refrain of not being able to connect with the movie on an emotional level. To those, I can only offer that perhaps the film necessitates a second viewing. I certainly recognize that some tweaks would serve the film better. Helping us understand why Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s Arthur places so much trust and confidence in DiCaprio’s Cobb, in spite of the repetitive signs that Cobb may not be as engaged as the job requires, would be helpful. I did have to push aside the team’s quick and easy acceptance of Ariadne, a college student outsider, who by her mere arrival, should warrant questions, debate, concerns, and certainly skepticism.
Leonardo DiCaprio is outstanding, mining similar territory here as in “Shutter Island” from earlier this year. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt continues to impress as an actor and his portrayal of Arthur, Cobb’s quasi-right hand man, is the perfect counterbalance to Cobb’s fragile mental state. Tom Hardy steals nearly every scene he is in as the wisecracking Eames, who delights in one-upping Arthur any way he can. Michael Caine delivers two extremely important scenes in the film and Marion Cotillard delivers an affecting and strong performance as Cobb’s wife, Mal, who anchors down the film’s emotional foundation.
Technically, the film may very well be flawless in its execution. Edited sharply and powerfully by Lee Smith, Wally Pfister’s cinematography is a masterclass in framing and aesthetics. Additionally, Hans Zimmer’s imposing and metallic score punctuates the movie’s scenes of uncertainty and anxiety. Remember these names come Oscar nomination morning.
When “Inception” ended, I wanted it re-spooled and restarted. In the days removed from it, I desperately want a second, and perhaps even a third viewing. From its complex and mindbending story to the amazing visuals sure to be discussed for years and years to come, “Inception” is extraordinary theater. Wasting no time, the film hits the ground running and for 148 unrelenting minutes, the film soars high above anything I have seen thus far in 2010. Nolan even delivers a final moment that many will debate and discuss and, I imagine, love and hate in equal numbers. A little inception of his own, perhaps?
No matter how ebullient the praise I, or others, lavish upon any film, no movie is ever perfect. With that said however, “Inception” is the best film I have seen in 2010 thus far. This is a movie I want to show everyone, take people to and discuss the pros, the cons, the how, what, when, where, and why. As a movie fan, it made me excited and hopeful that we have not cashed in all the idea chips in Hollywood.
I am sure that one day Christopher Nolan will misstep and deliver something subpar. However, unlike the debacle of the recent M. Night Shyamalan movie, “The Last Airbender”, “Inception” proves that Nolan is not a director with a couple of great ideas, or one that lucked into adapting a couple of movies in a proven “Batman” franchise. On this stage and in this realm, Nolan is as important a filmmaker as we have nowadays and his “Inception” is simply exhilirating.
There is something here for everyone, which is actually true for once. Mystery, suspense, action housed under the umbrella of science-fiction. The bar has been raised for the summer blockbuster going forward.
Fans of “Memento” and “Following”, or even “The Prestige” will be pleased that a challenging independent filmmaker has not lost his challenging tone and approach, even while working with the reported $200 million budget.
While not necessarily labyrinthine in design, “Inception” is still quite complex but Nolan is still able to lead you through the film rather easily.
It stays with you. Pure and simple.
When looking at the plot on paper, it seems like a lot to take in, almost as if it requires a notepad or flowchart. A few people I know thought it looked too intimidating to enjoy.
As with some critics, “The Dark Knight”, “Batman Begins”, “Memento” did nothing for you and if that is the case, you probably will not like this all that much either.
You have read the handful of negative reviews and have made up your mind that this is just not interesting to you.
Look, it is the best film I have seen in 2010 as of July 2010. So, I would ask that you re-read the above, watch the trailer, and simply try it.
You don’t watch movies or something.