"You never remember the beginning of a dream."
High concept does not even begin to describe this movie, in fact it defies classification. Thriller, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, action... Inception is all of this and more, combining an intelligent, thought provoking story with edge of your seat thrills and pulse pounding action. Currently it sits at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes with a consensus mirroring my own: "Smart, innovative, and thrilling, Inception is that rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually."
This movie has a rather complicated narrative so I will attempt to set up the plot without getting too convoluted. The movie takes place in a world where shared dreaming is a reality. It was apparently developed by the military as a platform to train soldiers without the risk of death or injury. Cobb (DiCaprio) is has become an expert in another aspect of this technology - using it to infiltrate the dreams of others as a means of espionage. After a bungled job leaves him in a difficult spot (i.e with a price on his head) Cobb receives an offer he can't refuse. Saito (Watanabe) offers to give Cobb a clean slate, all he has to do is complete a single job. The twist is that Saito doesn't want Cobb to steal anything from the target, he wants him to plant an idea in the targets mind - a concept known as inception. Despite his partner telling him it's impossible, Cobb agrees to Saito's proposal. After assembling a team, Cobb infiltrates the mind of Robert Fischer (Murphy) and attempts to successfully plant an idea in the mans mind. As I said the plot is just a tad complicated, I've tried to lay this out clearly and logically, but seeing it written down it's possible that I have failed in that regard. Never-the-less I think you can get the basic gist of the situation from the above summary.
Leonardo DiCaprio is once again on form, delivering another memorable performance just as he did in The Departed and Body of Lies. It's really quite amazing to me how much conviction DiCaprio brings to the roles he has played in recent years, especially when I consider the bland performance he brought to the table in Titanic. Cobb is a character haunted by his past and deeply troubled by the memory of his dead wife. DiCaprio conveys that pain brilliantly in just his facial expressions and mannerisms without even uttering a word. The glimpses we get into Cobb's psychosis are extremely powerful emotionally, and I believe that has as much to do with DiCaprio's acting skill as it does with the terrific writing and cinematography. Ken Watanabe adds another terrific performance to the movie, though sadly his role in the movie wanes during the second and third acts. I had a hard time placing the actor until I remembered he portrayed Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. A truly stand out performance is made by Ellen Page. I will admit that I haven't seen Juno, so this is really the first time I've seen Page get a chance to play a role with depth (as much as I love Kitty Pride - she's not exactly what I'd call complex). She spends many scenes in one-to-one dialog with DiCaprio and admirably matches his presence on screen by conveying just as much conviction as the more experienced actor. Her character is the 'newbie' on the team, so it is through her that we, the audience, get a basic tutorial on how the universe is set up, what the rules are and what to expect. She shoulders the responsibility well, thankfully the writers wisely chose to avoid any techno-babble in these scenes.
Two other characters that really stood out are Eames and Arthur. Eames is played by the highly under-appreciated Tom Hardy (lets all just forget about Shinzon - it's really the only true blemish on his career). I loved his performance in Rocknrolla, it's nice to see him get another shot at 'blockbuster' status. Eames is a terrific character, introduced as a con-man/forger he transitions into 'action hero' mode for the third act, getting to pull of stunts worthy of John McClane. Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the long time partner of Cobb and is also an experience extractor (the buzz word used to describe folks who steal secrets from peoples dreams). Levitt is also blessed with some great action sequences, one of which is truly trippy in a scene where 'up' and 'down' are no longer static directions. Thanks to Lovitt's performance Arthur also exhibits a kind of quiet intelligence, his experiences working with (the somewhat damaged) Cobb have clearly caused him to carefully evaluate his surroundings.
Inception is, as I have said, a complex movie. The narrative itself isn't the (most) confusing part, its more in the manner of the delivery. The audience has to keep track of multiple dream states, all of which operated on different time lines (a minute in one dream is an hour another etc). I'm not going to go so far as to say this is a bad thing. On the contrary I find it rather refreshing that a summer movie is requiring some thought on the part of the audience. The movie also challenges the audience to consider what is 'real' - how do we distinguish between the dream world and the real world? The bulk of the movie follows the perspective of Cobb, as such we experience events through his eyes, and as a consequence get to know his character more than the others and genuinely relate to him. Over the course of the movie (which is rather long a two and half hours) I really felt like I connected with Cobb, I cared what happened to this character, and I wanted him to succeed.
I said at the start of my review that Inception successfully combines a thinking-mans thriller with an exciting action piece. It is however, important not to over-think the movie. After leaving the theater we discussed the movie at length, trying to figure out the complexities of it and answer EVERY question. I wouldn't recommend this approach. When you start to over think the narrative, pieces of the puzzle get shuffled and the flow of the movie gets disrupted. There is certainly room for interpretation as the credits role on Inception, but don't allow your analysis to destroy the mastery of writing and storytelling that you've just experienced.
Overall I was extremely satisfied with Inception, I'd love to see it again and I imagine I will pick it up in short order when it arrives on DVD. Take a trip to your local cinema and judge it for yourself - just be sure not to leave your brain at the door.
Final verdict on Inception: