There is only one movie I have been literally ecstatic about seeing, which is not something that happens to me very often. That movie is Inception. I can’t quite explain why, except to say that the marketing team behind Inception managed to utterly captivate me with their trailers and strong attempts at keeping secret the details of what I am calling “Nolan’s masterpiece.” Point is, the moment I heard about Inception, I was hooked, and I have spent the last three or four months waiting for what I hoped would be the best movie of the entire year, let alone the best science fiction movie in decades.
And you know what Inception provided? Everything I could have ever wanted and more. It is, in my opinion, the best movie of the year and is easily in my top ten best science fiction movies of all time. Calling Inception “Nolan’s masterpiece” is an understatement. It is a tour de force, a feat of monumental cinematic proportions. For those that had doubts about Nolan’s ability to escape the brilliant success of The Dark Knight, Inception proves you wrong, because it is the one movie that I think defines Nolan as an expert filmmaker, as the kind of writer and director that can actually produce high quality original material and direct it at a level that certain other filmmakers haven’t been able to do since the beginning of their careers (I’m looking at you M. Night Shyamalan). Inception is, to put it more simply, a must see.
Now for my review (after the fold):
Describing Inception is difficult. I am writing this review with the intention of leaving out the specifics, partly because I think everyone should see this movie and partly because doing so could potentially ruin the experience of discovery that I received while watching it. With that in mind, I am going to steal the synopsis from IMDB to give you a better impression of the plot of the movie:
Dom Cobb is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible-inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.
Inception is one of those rare movies that makes you think while entertaining you, something that doesn’t happen all that often. Right from the start, the movie slams you head first into the complex world that Nolan has created, showing you how things work, how difficult and detailed everything is, and how much time and energy Nolan undoubtedly put into every aspect of the film, from the cast to the situation to the visuals. It becomes clear right that what is to follow (i.e. the primary narrative) will be a complicated, but thoroughly engaging event.
And it is. The deeper Nolan takes us into the intricate web of his dream worlds, the more amazingly complicated, strange, and exciting things become. The progression of the primary narrative is smooth and timed perfectly (often for good reason) and the climax is probably one of the most brilliantly suspenseful moments I have seen on film (you’ll have to watch to understand what I mean). Characters “die,” even important ones, and the more complex the climax becomes, building up like a spiderweb or layering like a quantum pie, the more obvious the danger that everyone is in becomes–one wrong movie and everything will come crumbling down.
The narrative, thankfully, is well-supported by two things: a fantastic cast and amazing visuals. The latter of these demonstrates precisely why only certain directors should use CG, because Nolan clearly understands where using CG is best placed and where using physical mediums is superior. Inception is a combination of both, in the sense that some action sequences are done almost entirely without CG, and others are not (the latter of these are typically scenes that simply cannot be done without CG). The appropriate lack of CG is no small feat. Entire action sequences that would likely be made easier on the actors and the director by reducing it all to a CGed mess are instead done with what we assume are expertly-handled wires and ingenious contraptions. An example of this is actually in the trailers, where we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt flying down or climbing up the walls of a hotel hallway. The entire sequence is brilliant, but even that snippet shows you just how important realism is to Nolan. He wants his vision to encapsulate the wonder of the dream, while also invoking believability; without that, the entire film would crash to the ground, because once the audience no longer suspends its disbelief, there is nothing left to tell or do but drawn one’s own inadequacies..
From an acting standpoint, the film is well cast. DeCaprio’s (Cobb) slight dislike for science fiction doesn’t show as he delivers a believable character with a troubled past and an emotional mission. Gordon-Levitt (Arthur), surprisingly, not only demonstrates his often ignored ability to do something other that “teen comedy,” but shows viewers, I think, that he is capable of pulling off action heroes. There was never a moment when I questioned whether Arthur was the right fit for Gordon-Levitt; he just seemed to fit. Ken Watanabe (Saito), who I greatly admire, starts off somewhat slow, but quickly becomes a fascinating secondary character, while Cillian Murphy (Robert Fischer, Jr.) delivers a stunning performance, despite having very little in terms of screen time. Ellen Page (Ariadne) helps round out the largely male cast with a strong, though not necessarily her best, performance, evoking a sense of maturity-beyond-her-years. She’s not the only female character though, but I’m not going to say anything else about that. All in all, the cast is, I think, probably one of the best ensembles in a science fiction film, and possibly a good contender outside of the genre.
But now we run into a problem. I’ve said nothing but good things about this movie. In a lot of ways, Inception deserves it. From start to finish, it is an amazing film, but it also doesn’t feel like a perfect film. There is something missing. A key, but minuscule component. I think Inception‘s only flaw is that its incredibly complex, though fascinating narrative pulls something away from the emotional impact of Cobb’s story. The end, while clever and definitely emotional, failed, at least on a first viewing, to bring me to the emotional level that I think Nolan was looking for, and this largely because I spent a considerably amount of time trying to make sure that I understood what was going on (that’s not to say that I didn’t have an emotional reaction, just that I wasn’t brought to that “happy tears” or “sad tears” place that emotionally powerful movies often bring me to). But this might also be Inception‘s strength, because few movies are built in such a way that makes the act of seeing it again in theaters potentially rewarding. Now that I know how everything works, I feel as though it would be beneficial to head back into Nolan’s vision and allow Cobb’s story to consume me. I intend to do just that this week, and I’ll be back with an addendum to this review. For now, you have my first round thoughts to roll around in your head.
Value: $10.50 (based on a $10.50 max)
P.S.: You absolutely must see this movie.