© 2010 Ray Wong
I've been looking forward to seeing Inception, Chris Nolan's brand-new mind-warping thriller following his phenomenal The Dark Knight, after seeing the first trailer. Part of me was super excited, and part of me was apprehensive: what if the movie doesn't meet the hype?
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a world-class criminal whose specialty is getting into someone's mind (through their dreams) and steal their secrets, essentially performing corporate espionage. He's also on the run. When a client, Saito (Ken Watanabe), offers him a job that will enable to return to his children, it's a deal he can't refuse.
Saito's main competitor Maurice Fischer (Pete Potlethwaite) is dying, and his son Robert (Cillian Murphy) will soon inherit the empire. Instead of extracting information from Robert's subconsciousness, the job is to plant an idea in his mind, for him to break up and sell part of Fischer's company. In order to do this, Cobb must perform an "inception" deep in Fischer's subconsciousness. It's a feat that has only been done once, and Cobb assures Saito it will work, and that Saito must guarantee his end of the deal.
Soon Cobb assembles his team, including his trusted second-hand man Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt), "architect" Ariadne (Ellen Page) whose job is to design the dreams, Eames (Tom Hardy) who is a master impersonator, Yusuf (Dileep Rao) who is an expert chemist and will give them a rare sedative strong enough for them to go deep into Fischer's mind. Saito is coming along as well, to make sure they do the job right.
The ensemble cast is exceptional. Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island) is very good as Cobb, the troubled, conflicted mastermind of this whole scheme. Cobb is a brilliant architect himself, but he is burdened by a deep-rooted guilt. DiCaprio's performance is spot-on but also reminds us of his role in Shutter Island, which interestingly also deals with the mind. There are certainly many similarities between the two roles, but I think DiCaprio handles this one much better than he did in Shutter Island.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer) is wonderful as Arthur, a con man who is an expert in research, planning and execution. He's a grown up tremendously as an actor. As Arthur, Gordon-Levitt proves once again he is the thinking people's action hero. Ellen Page (Juno) fits in well even though she's the only female in the cast apart of Cotillard and she's never done a big-budget action movie before. Still, I find her performance a bit too understated and one-note.
Tom Hardy (Bronson) is probably the most badass good guy I've seen in a while. He steals every scene he's in. Same can be said of Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight) -- he commands attention every time he's on screen. Ken Watanabe (Shanghai) is excellent as Saito. Tom Berenger (Sinners and Saints) and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight) are both seasoned pros. Finally, Marion Cotillard (Nine) is sexy and perfect as Cobb's wife.
The screenplay by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) is by far the greatest achievement of this movie, and will be talked about for a very long time (and will undoubtedly get an Oscar nomination). Written over a decade, the story is exceptionally intelligent, intricate and complicated, and yet Nolan is able to guide us through the maze of the multi-layered plot twists. The thing is, we have to pay attention. If you blink a few seconds too long, you may miss something important. The reason I didn't give you a more detailed plot synopsis is that it's very difficult to summarize everything. The plot deals with many elements and themes, and the twists and turns are so intricate that you simply have to watch it (and watch it again, and maybe again) to completely understand it.
That's not to say the story is difficult or confusing. We simply have to pay attention because there's a lot of information, hints and clues. It's a puzzle. There is a lot of exposition in the first half of the film to explain how it all works, and the different concepts such as "totem," "limbo," "inception," and the time-differentials between multiple layers of dreams. Again, pay attention or else you will not understand the second half of the movie. Nolan also combines the intelligent science-fiction with Jungian philosophies and James Bond-like action, all wrapped up in a "heist" thriller. Needless to say, Nolan's story is a geek's wet dream come true, and will certainly prompt discussions and debates for years to come.
Not only is Nolan a great writer, he's also a great director. If he can also act, he'd be the most envied entertainer in the world. His direction is crisp, well paced, and masterful. The camerawork is exceptional. The cinematography is excellent with just the right use of CGI that doesn't call attention to itself. There's a zero-gravity hallway fight sequence that is so well conceived and executed that it's a difficult act to follow. It helps that Nolan writes the screenplay, so he's able to streamline the story and add enough exposition (but not too much to bog down the plot) so that the audiences are not lost. That itself is an achievement considering how complicated the plot is.
In my opinion, Inception not only meets the expectations and hype, it exceeds them. The writing is intricate and intelligent, complicated and well thought-out. The execution is flawless. The acting is impressive from everyone in the cast. And there are even real emotions (one of the criticisms about Nolan's films is that they're usually intellectual but unemotional) and humor. The ending is perfect and will keep people talking for a very long time. It's one inception Nolan's performed to our minds that will not soon be forgotten.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence
Running Time: 148 minutes
Script – 9
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 9
Production – 9
Total – 8.9 out of 10