Director Christopher Nolan continues his streak of excellence with the superb, if a little too cerebral Inception. Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Cobb, a thief that extracts secrets from the dreams of unsuspecting targets in a high stakes world of corporate espionage. Cobb's partner, and one of the primary reasons this film works, is the deadpan Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). They fail during an 'extraction' of a powerful Japanese business man, Saito (Ken Watanabe). But instead of killing them, Saito offers them the chance to redeem themselves and clear their names. He wants to place an idea - inception, in the mind of his dying rival's son (Cillian Murphy). Cobb puts together an elite team (Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) for the job, but needs a new mind to be the 'architect' - a brilliant thinker capable of constructing the dream state for the crime. Insert Ellen Page as Ariadne, a creative visionary who discovers Cobb's fatal flaw. He's haunted by memories of his wife (Marion Cotillard), who manifests as the antagonist in the very dangerous dream state.
To say this film is riveting is an understatement. At two hours and thirty minutes, it moves like a breeze. This is an incredible achievement when considering how complex the plot is. There wasn't a second where I was confused or unsure of what was happening. Nolan's deft script and clever editing keeps what could be a jumble of story elements neatly in line. He smartly introduces several physical objects that allow the viewer and characters to differentiate between reality and the dream state. This provides an anchor-like thread throughout the myriad of plotlines. I firmly believe that for this movie to succeed, the writer of the script would have to direct as well to preserve the sanity of vision. Nolan proves himself as extraordinary in both categories.
Willing suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying Inception. Nolan takes a page from James Cameron's Avatar and makes no attempt whatsoever to explain the science behind the technology. The device and chemicals that bring the characters into the dreams are a true macguffin. It is absolutely key, but just accepted as fact like a gun is a weapon. The convoluted nature of the story would have been further diluted by focussing on this device, so Nolan's genius as a storyteller grows with his understanding of how important it was to leave out the machine entirely.
There may be comparisons to the Matrix or David Cronenberg's Existenz, but apart from the avatar concept; Inception is a philosphically superior film on every level. Without revealing spoilers, Nolan is making a humanistic point. The concepts of love, loss, friendship and perception of reality are deeply explored. Inception is not a hack attempt to pursue psycho-babble with bad-ass special effects.
My primary concern walking into this film was how the visual effects would be used to drive the plot. This is not a Matrix-esque bullet time retread. The effects are dazzling, really well done. The use of slow motion, something I think most directors totally misuse, is tremendously executed. The various dream states exponentially slow down time, so events affect how the characters move. I would not be surpised to see Inception's editor, Lee Smith, holding an Oscar next year. This is easily one of the best edited films I have ever seen.
While Leonardo Dicaprio has his name above the banners, and to be fair he does okay, the ensemble cast steal this movie. Ellen Page, who shot to fame in Juno, eclipses that roll with a star-making performance as Ariadne. She's damn good. Along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy, they are the lynchpin of Inception. I'm sure Nolan's direction, which has garnered highly nuanced performances from his previous ensemble actors, should be credited for their success.
Christopher Nolan deserves a torrent of effusive praise for Inception. He deliver's a smart, compelling, visual masterpiece that is exceedingly rare from big-budget Hollywood. He's capitalized on his Batman series by going out and making the kind of film he, I believe, would want to see. I don't think there's a chance in hell this film would have been made otherwise. It is a master stroke from a director in his prime. Inception is leagues above any live action film released in 2010. A must see in Imax.