The plot, for which I can’t even begin to fully describe, as Mr. Nolan is a far more brilliant man than I, is essentially a heist flick, except these thieves don’t steal pieces of fortune, they plant ideas. The film takes place in a futuristic world where your dreams can be corrupted by other people. What could your subconscious reveal if other people teetered around in your brain? Everything, the movie repeatedly stresses.
After a failed attempt to access a man’s safe via his subconscious, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is hired by his would-be mark, Saito (Ken Watanabe) not to steal something from his corporate business rival (Pete Postlethwaite), but instead to implant a false idea that will cause his son, Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to get rid of the family empire altogether, a notion referred to as inception.
You with me? Try to keep up.
In an effort to get his name clear of a murder he didn’t (or believes he didn’t) commit, Cobb accepts the inception offer, much to the dismay of his loyal right-hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The two set off recruiting an elite crew of dream thieves, including Ellen Page and Tom Hardy, all planning to kidnap Fischer, put him in a deep sleep, then sneak into his dream and plant the inception.
But let’s not get bogged down by plot details. Inception is a movie that is damn near impossible to explain, whether verbally or in print, and much better experienced on a movie screen.
In what may be the most original American film since, well, Nolan’s own Memento, Inception opens its audience up to a world they’ve never seen before. The plot, while immensely complicated, is so layered in its delivery, that by the end, you feel as though you’ve viewed an entire television season, let alone a brisk two and a half hour movie.
Nolan is known for avoiding special effects whenever he can. In Batman Begins and the superior Dark Knight, he actually made 18-wheelers flip upside down and cars actually crash through walls and men actually fall from dozens of stories up. Hospitals actually exploded, bridges actually collapsed, and so on. Now, when you envision a movie in which an entire city collapses on itself, cars fall of bridges at a rate of 1,000 frames per second, and people fight on the sides of walls, a little F/X is to be expected. Well, expect all you want, and try to tell the difference if you can.
In the film’s best, most thrilling scene, Gordon-Levitt fights a slew of bad guys in a hotel hallway as the walls turn and twist and topple on each other. The floor suddenly becomes the wall, the wall suddenly becomes the ceiling, the characters quickly float into each other, desperately attempting to land a critical punch or shoot a fatal bullet. During the scene, which deserves to be compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, I actually found myself holding my breath as chills ran down my spine. I knew in that moment that I, like everyone else in the theatre, was witnessing the evolution of a cinematic masterpiece. I’ve never seen anything like that in a movie before, simply because, nothing like that has ever existed in a movie before.
Inception is filled with scenes like that. Moments and ideas that are brand new to the cinema art form. You can credit Nolan’s fantastic screenplay, or Hans Zimmer’s eerily pitch-perfect musical score, or Wally Pfister’s sweeping cinematography, or Lee Smith’s seamless editing, or even Guy Dyas’ layered production design. But, usually, we credit who is right in front of us. And who better to hold that responsibility than a cast as A-listed as this?
Leonardo DiCaprio, who has done leaps and bounds with his acting in the last decade, delivers yet another flawless, internal performance as the deeply conflicted Cobb. DiCaprio’s acting is maturing in ways I never imagined. He’s getting to be as good as an actor can get. Gordon-Levitt, the indie darling from (500) Days of Summer, Brick and The Lookout, once again proves his fierce ability to completely embody his character. The kid is 29 years old, 130 lbs. and 100 percent badass. Page (miles away from her snarky Juno character), Hardy (as good as his ferocious Bronson two years ago), Murphy and Watanabe all contribute equally to the believability of Nolan’s pseudo sci-fi world.
But, in perhaps the film’s most complicated character, Marion Cotillard delivers the performance of DiCaprio’s slain wife with such a broad array of emotions, it’s as if you’re witnessing multiple actresses in the same role. The way Cotillard manages to shift from tender to psychotic to loving in the span of a minute is a bravado work of art.
Inception isn’t your typical summer action flick. It’s complex yet developed. Convoluted yet organic. The type of movie you won’t be able to see just once. Go on, it’s okay, test yourself. Push your own personal limits of cinematic expression.
"Entertainment Weekly" recently asked if Inception could save this lackluster summer. No, it can’t. But it’ll come damn close to saving the entire year. A