Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: "Inception"

Here's why I think "Inception" is going to make a boatload of money, beyond the fact that it's one of the most original screen visions we've had this year: Most people who buy tickets will want to watch it again to see if they can figure the thing out.

Mind-blowing, sometimes bewildering, always engrossing, breathtakingly ambitious -- the new reality-bending mystery/thriller from writer/director Christopher Nolan is like a multi-faceted Chinese finger trap. As soon as you think you've got the puzzle worked out, it reveals another layer of complexity to baffle and astound you.

The level of intricacy in Nolan's storytelling is so dense, it makes the alternate-reality world of "The Matrix" -- or even the fevered amnesiac's dream of Nolan's own "Memento" -- seem like a child's toy.

All I know is I was completely caught up in the film for every moment of its 2½ hours.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads an elite team of "extractors" who can enter another person's mind while they dream, with the help of a special device housed in a steel briefcase. He's essentially a mind thief, stealing into the darker recesses of consciousness to pilfer corporate secrets for their rivals.

As the story opens, Cobb and his crew are trying to tap the mind of Saito (Ken Watanabe), head of a multinational corporation. The virtual heist fails, but leads to a much bigger job: Inception.

Inception is different from extraction in that you're not stealing information, but implanting it. The target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of an ultra-powerful businessman, who is on his deathbed and about to pass on the mantle. They want to implant an idea in the son's dream that will clear the way for the competition, while making him think it was his own.

As you might guess, inception is dangerous; in fact, as far as most people in the know are concerned, it's merely theoretical. But Cobb, who's been down in the limbo of "dreamspace" deeper and longer than anyone, has some tricks up his sleeve.

He sets about recruiting a dream team of dream-tappers. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his right-hand man and enforcer. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) keeps the dreamers safely sedated. Eames (Tom Hardy) is the forger who impersonates others in the dreamscape.
The newest addition is Ariadne (Ellen Page), an "architect" -- she's the one who constructs the fake worlds where the dreamers interact.

Ariadne's a newbie, but she soon figures out that Cobb has personal issues that will imperil their mission. His wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) keeps appearing in his dreams as a projection of his subconscious -- as are all the other people populating these imaginary worlds. For reasons I can't share without spoiling, Mal, or at least Cobb's vision of her, keeps sabotaging his missions.

The film is filled with astonishing scenes of CG-assisted hallucinations. In Ariadne's training session, Cobb shows her how to rearrange entire city blocks at will, flipping them like Lego pieces. But there are rules to be followed, tricks that must not be attempted, lest the dreamer fall into a well of chaos from which they may never emerge.

In another memorable sequence, Gordon-Levitt has a series of fights where the laws of gravity are constantly in flux, so the ceiling becomes the floor which becomes the wall, and so forth.

Sound freaky? Well, I haven't even told you about the fact that the best extractors can put themselves to sleep inside the dream, creating whole new levels of constructed reality.

Though "Inception" may not add up to anything beyond a ripping yarn that will keep people talking and arguing, this audacious blend of science fiction and jaunt through the layers of consciousness certainly never fails to grip the audience.

3.5 stars out of four


  1. So it's okay if they break up Fischer's business (and ruin the lives of thousands of his employees in the process) as long as everything is super-complicated and looks really cool? Aren't we cheering for the wrong people here...? I think a more interesting film would have involved a team of mental security agents working to prevent such sabotage. As it is, Cobb and his team are no more than mental rapists attacking a man who has done them no harm. No, thanks.

  2. The gap between a clever idea and the ability to successfully execute that idea is undoubtedly this director's god-given talent. This movie is not a stumble, or a muff, but similar to a long tumble down the Alpine mountains of a ten times oversize Steinway grand piano, with gold inlaid ivory and grossly ornate features. The money being wasted on this mental punishment is more facinating than anything connected with the story. 15 minutes in, it made no sense -- why is the piano tumbling down the mountainside? -- and why must we watch? 2 hrs in, I felt "at least the actors are getting paid, despite looking hopelessly lost or being able to understood what story they are in, or why. I saw no focus on the story here, mostly because the execution was so pedestrian, plodding and unimaginative. It felt like you were listening to someone describe the movie to you in your ear for two hours, while you slowly edged your finger towards the power drill next to you, the drill that could make the "dream" go away. The premise, that a dream expert would perform "inception" (planting of an idea in someone's brain) for the purpose of industrial espionage, is too weak to support the two hours and fifteen minutes of suppository -- excuse me -- expository -- that follows. The dream levels were all boringly filmed scenes, uniquely un-dream like. It did not matter what dream level you were in, photographically they all looked the same(?). People who buy into anything that is put on screen will probably be asking themselves -- wow, why didn't I understand that, was it too -- deep? People who have aesthetic taste, a history of moving going, and a low tolerance for stupidity will be going -- wow -- am I sitting in front of a screenwriting garbage pipe the size of ten sewers, watching hundreds of millions of dollars being dumped on my head? Yup.