Review: Inception
After a string of successes with Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight, it's safe to say Christopher Nolan has earned my trust. No one combines the spectacle of the blockbuster with lofty thematic notions quite as well as he does, and after the monumental success of The Dark Knight, he was thankfully given as much money as he could possibly use to create his next film. Nolan infuses Inception with many of these philosophical notions, including the idea that reality is fluid and the question of how much control we have over our own lives, or even our own subconscious. Oh yeah, and there are explosions. Because he can.

The film follows Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a thief who through the film's daringly high concept actually enters the dreams of his mark in order to steal his deepest secrets. Cobb has some secrets of his own of course, and those haunt him, manifesting in his waking life through criminal charges that keep him from his children, and in his dreams (and the dreams of those he invades) through the ethereal form of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard, who is every bit as unnerving as the role requires her to be). Cobb jumps at the chance to get his life back when a wealthy businessman (Ken Watanabe) offers to get the charges against him dropped if he will perform the titular act and implant an idea into the mind of the heir to a rival corporation Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy).

Cobb brings his team along for the ride, including Arthur (a subdued Joseph Gordon Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy), Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page) as they construct a thrillingly complex layer of dreams to lull Fischer into believing the idea they need to implant is his own. Under a less sure hand, the incredibly complex plotline, which involves dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams, would easily have fallen off the rails, yet Nolan navigates the murky waters of his plot with little hand-holding, dropping audiences into the experience without so much as a title card to orient us. For a movie so startlingly complex, and with such a long run time (the film runs two and a half hours), Inception is incredibly tightly written, with each narrative trick paying dividends further down the line. There is a feeling throughout that a master is plying his craft at the top of his game, and there is no doubt that the product we are seeing is exactly what Nolan envisioned.

Which raises the question of why the film, much of which takes place in a dreamscape, often comes off seeming coldly logical and strangely calculated. It's as if Nolan comprehends the intellectual possibilities of setting his film within a dream, yet somewhere along the way forgot what dreaming feels like. Lip service is paid to the non-linear construction of dreams throughout, yet the story follows logically, with nary a hint of surrealism or dream-like atmosphere throughout. The movie raises brilliant ideas, executes them excellently, and even intersperses them with well choreographed and inventive action set-pieces. Yet in contemplating it afterwards, I can't help but think that Christopher Nolan, for all of his brilliant creativity, must have some pretty boring dreams.

This is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellently executed film, however. Nolan's dreamscape may not closely resemble the way we experience dreaming, but he has created a whole world and he drops the audience right into it without hesitation. It's a world of ideas, a world where confidence and competence mix with wild improvisation and where lofty ideas are given their due rather than dismissed. Nolan treats us to car chases, gun fights, and even a fight scene set in zero gravity, but he never loses sight of the fact that he is making a movie of ideas. Inception is a well crafted, immersive, immensely entertaining experience, right around the time where I was beginning to lose faith in this summer's movie selection. Christopher Nolan could have used an extra infusion of imagination on this one, but his sterling intellect and mastery of the craft more than make up for any minor lack of creativity. This may not be the best depiction of dreaming ever put on film (ok, it certainly isn't), but it is a damn fine look at how more action movies should be made.

Grade: A-
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