Inception, the latest extraordinary piece of work fromdirector Christopher Nolan, is a movie that just screws with you—in a good way—from its first frame to its last.
Nolan, who also wrote the film, has come up with a brilliant premise: A team of dream raiders are able to infiltrate a person’s subconscious to not only steal their ideas, but even possibly plant one. Because most of the film’s action takes place in dream worlds, anything is possible visually, giving Nolan the ultimate filmmaker’s playground. He has created a visual masterpiece that’s also remarkably intelligent and clever.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s having a stellar year with this and Shutter Island, plays Cobb, the leader of some dream raiders. His team, which includes an excellently cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has had some pretty wild adventures, running around in people’s brains looking for an idea that somebody has paid them to steal. Much to their surprise, one of their proposed victims, Saito (Ken Watanabe) has actually set them up to see if they’re any good
When Saito is satisfied with what he sees, he hires the team to enter the dreams of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), his corporate rival with the intent of planting an idea in his head that could topple Fischer’s business empire, and consequently Saito’s competition. Cobb hires a whiz kid architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page), to help design a multi-tiered dream world that will enable the team to implant an idea deep in the recesses of Fischer’s brain. Cobb and company don’t just go into Fischer’s subconscious, they go three layers deep. They find themselves running around inside a dream within a dream within a dream.
At this point in the evolution of cinema, Nolan is blessed in that the special effects he can employ are synched up masterfully with his gonzo imagination. When Cobb walks Ariadne through a dream, explaining the physics of the subconscious, city streets fold upwards and on top of one another in jaw-dropping fashion.
When Levitt’s character finds himself in hand-to-hand combat within a dream, he must do so in a weightless atmosphere because he’s flying through the air in a van shooting off a bridge in his sleeping state—or one of his sleeping states, because his body is actually sleeping in a dream. OK, my brain hurts.
Cobb is haunted by the memories of his wife, Mal, (the amazing Marion Cotillard), who has a way of showing up in the dream world and wreaking continuous havoc. The Cobb and Mal subplot is ingenious and won’t be explained too much here, other than to say it’s a heartbreaker.
DiCaprio anchors all of the insanity with a performance that is expertly grounded and moving. He gets to play action hero here, as Nolan presents sequences that have an almost James Bond-like twist to them. He also gets to play a tragic-romantic figure in his scenes with Cotillard, scenes that contain high-octane emotional strength. He’s an acting powerhouse for the second time this year.
The supporting cast, including Page and Gordon-Levitt, who performed a lot of his own stunts, complement DiCaprio nicely. Also along for the ride are Michael Caine as the man who has taught Cobb all he knows about dreamscapes, and Lukas Haas as Cobb’s original dream architect, a character who possibly plays an even bigger part after he physically exits the film.
Inception sounds crazy, and it is. This is one of those puzzle films that’s hard to follow at times, a labyrinthine movie that sticks with you many hours after you’ve seen it. Half the fun of the film is getting everything straight in your head after you’ve watched it. It’s unbelievable to me that Nolan had the brainpower to dream this stuff up. His imagination seemingly has no boundaries.