Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard
Waves crashing to shore, then a body; these are both one of the first things we see in Inception, and one of the last. Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated dream-thriller may wow you with its visual prowess, dazzle you with its high-ended concepts, and intrigue you with its heist-style head invading, but it has a typical Hollywood-style circular structure.
If it sounds like I’m already being hard on Nolan and his predetermined masterpiece, it’s only because you need to know right off the bat that it does not reinvent cinema the way its publicity campaign suggested.
Many reviews have pointed out all of Nolan’s influences (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix) and for good reason: Inception is chock full of moments where anyone who’s seen a sci-fi movie will chuckle to themselves.
One movie that Inception brings to mind more than any other, though, is Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and not just because of Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s an acclaimed American director, not quite at the top of his game, but playing it nonetheless. Shutter Island was the best movie of the winter because amidst all the crap, it was a movie that could be talked about on both an intelligent and entertaining level. Inception is the same.
As far as visuals go, you’d be hard pressed to find a movie this year that’s more striking and engrossing in that sense. It is probably Nolan’s best looking movie to date, even if it’s not his best. You’ll see a city turn on itself, a train plow through the middle of a crowded street, and jaw-dropping physics-bending fights in a hotel.
Spoiling the intricacies of this multi-layered dream world that makes up the movie’s core would be to ruin the best part of it. The first 45 minutes are, like many high-concept movies, purely there to explain what exactly is going on. This happens when Cobb (DiCaprio) explains to newbie Ariadne (Ellen Page) how exactly one infiltrates the mind.
This first third of the movie is textbook in both its structure and how it presents the information like it’s a required reading. Thankfully, it’s interspersed with some pretty pictures.
DiCaprio is a great actor, and he creates a believable character out of Cobb even when the script doesn’t let him fully realize his character. The biggest problem with Inception is that it expects you to know all of the characters beforehand. It introduces his wife Molly (Marion Cotillard) as if we’d been watching this TV show for a few episodes. Page waltzes onto the screen nonchalantly with no back-story, and we’re expected to care. Like a dream, it drops you in the middle and you don’t know how you got there.
The acting is all great despite that weakness. Along with DiCaprio, Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt deliver fine performances. Cotillard will freeze your blood as an imaginary version of a lost love trapped in her lover’s subconscious.
Movie directors handle dreams in different ways. The warped mind of David Lynch has set the bar for surrealism in modern movies, but Nolan isn’t going for that type of experience. The dreams of this director feel like the rest of the movie, and are concocted as part of the plot rather than surrealistic by-products. It can be both a strength and a weakness. The physics-bending fight sequences are great, but the structuring of dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams at the beginning becomes a gimmick and throws the viewer off in a bad way when they seem so real. Nolan is not Alan Ball, and it shows.
Despite those faults, Inception is a thrilling, unique experience. When the movie reaches its second half and the team tries to implant an idea in someone’s mind by creating a three layered dream, it’s impossible to stop watching. The cutting between these three sequences is handled perfectly, and it finds a new kind of sci-fi by blending many good old ideas.
For a summer entertainment, it goes above and beyond. The beginning may fade like an uninteresting dream, but the rest, even the sure-to-be-griped-about ending, will haunt and engross you.