Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real you were confused when you woke up that the people you were talking to and the place you had been just disappeared? I've had a few of those. Sometimes, I'm able to figure out that I'm dreaming and force myself to wake up, but usually not. My dreams, even about mundane things, tend toward the bizarre and frightening. I recall one dream where I opened a refrigerator and it was filled with snakes. No matter how vivid my dreams are, I never feel like I can adequately share with someone the true nature of my dreams. If only there was a way to have people join me in my dreams. In this week's movie "Inception," there is.
"Inception" gets five guitars out of five.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) steals ideas and secrets, but he does it by entering his targets' subconscious through shared dreaming. Using various drugs to induce a deeper level of sleep, Cobb and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are working for a shady multi-national company trying to steal the secrets of Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe). Their failed attempt impresses Saito who offers them a job to implant an idea in the mind of energy conglomerate owner Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his company, preventing it from monopolizing the energy market. While implanting an idea, called inception, is extremely difficult and dangerous, Cobb is willing to take the risk because Saito claims he can make Cobb's legal problems disappear. Cobb is wanted in the United States for the murder of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) and his guilt over the circumstances of her death causes his memories of her to enter the shared dreams and sabotage his missions. A new member of his team, Ariadne (Ellen Page), is brought on to help create the environments of the dream worlds and digs deeper into Cobb's memories of his wife, exposing his greatest weakness that could get them all trapped in a nearly inescapable level of dreaming called limbo.
The above is just a very broad sketch of what happens in "Inception" but doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the complexity and depth of the story. Very few summer blockbusters approach the level of storytelling that's on display in "Inception." It will challenge the typical moviegoer and delight the true movie fan. It is a complicated, multi-layered story that requires the viewer to pay attention and not just be impressed by the visuals. That's not to say you won't be impressed. The look of the film is lush and offers almost as much depth as a well done 3D movie. There are scenes that will make you ask, "How did they do that?" even if you already have some idea. Those responsible for the computer generated images in the film should open a school for the rest of Hollywood as there is nothing in the movie that screams out "FAKE" no matter how fantastic it appears. There are scenes that appear to have been shot in zero gravity without the usual odd movements that are normally associated with wire stunts. Perhaps the filmmakers rented the airplane astronauts use to get a brief feel of weightlessness and built a set inside of it (like was done for "Apollo 13"), but I doubt it. The length of the scenes in zero-G would probably have required months of filming, monopolizing the plane and preventing astronaut training.
The cast of "Inception" is a special effect itself. Leonardo DiCaprio is known for his gritty, emotional portrayals of tortured souls as in "Shutter Island" from earlier this year. This is another character that carries a great deal of pain and suffering inside but tries to move on despite the torment. His veneer of calm and control is quickly shattered whenever the memory of his wife pops up. Marion Cotillard is both beautiful and frightening as Mal. Here presence on screen means things are about to go downhill; but she is a joy to behold with her delicate features and sexy French accent. The crew aiding Cobb in implanting the idea is a mixture of odd characters who, at first, seems like a bad mix; but as we learn more about them, we see their combined talents produce the synergy necessary to pull of this complicated job. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is like the manager of the team. He makes sure everything is where it's supposed to be when it's supposed to be there. His cool and calm rarely wavers, including when he sneaks a kiss from Ellen Page's Ariadne. Drawn into a world beyond her wildest dreams (pardon the pun), Ariadne soon begins to question Cobb's fitness to lead the mission. Unlike the rest of the crew, she's more than willing to confront him about his issues. Eames, played by Tom Hardy, is a con man who is able to project the image of different people during shared dreaming. He's also the comic of the group. Dileep Rao plays Yusuf, the chemist who concocts the dream potions needed to drive everyone into the deepest possible sleep. None of the players feels miscast and everyone does an exceptional job in bringing some reality to this unreal scenario.
"Inception" is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and sequences of action. There are fist fights, gun battles and car chases galore throughout the film. There is very little blood and no gore. Foul language is scattered.
"Inception" is a brilliant film made by the director behind "The Dark Knight," Christopher Nolan. Every great director has a signature; a visual style that sets his films apart from any other. Nolan has a style that is difficult to pigeonhole and is best described as visual perfection. Every shot looks as if it was treated as the most important in the movie. There isn't a single frame of this film that doesn't look like it was sweated over and fretted about. A lesser director going for the same quality might produce a film that looks too pretty and perfect. Nolan's gift is making every shot look great without causing the storytelling to suffer. There are scenes in "Inception" that last only a few seconds, yet they have the same power and narrative importance of scenes that last much longer. Every second of this film is important to the overall experience, so make sure you empty your bladder before it starts and pass up the large drink at the concessions stand because you won't want to miss a single frame. Avoid blinking as much as possible.
"Inception" gets a very enthusiastic five guitars. It's the best film I've seen in a long time.