Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
Plot: A thief who specialises in ‘extraction’ via dreams, is given the task of ‘inception’, but the journey is fraught with dangerous memories that threaten to de-rail the entire operation.
There are some films that need at least two viewings before you can understand just what exactly happened. Mulholland Drive, Open Your Eyes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Synecdoche, New York and Memento are all classic head-scratchers, that have confused and befuddled audiences alike. Christopher Nolan directed the latter of these and was at the helm of Inception, a high-concept film which demands intense concentration for its entire running time, but with a magnificent reward as a result.
Dominick ‘Dom’ Cobb (DiCaprio) and his business associate Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) commit corporate espionage using a machine developed by the military to enabler them to infiltrate the dreams of their targets and steal information for their clients. Their latest subject is a powerful Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), whose subconscious they enter using a strategy of dream within a dream, in order to confuse Saito and persuade him into giving them the information they require whilst still believing he is asleep. However, the operation fails due to the fact that Cobb’s deceased wife, Mallorie ‘Mal’ Cobb (Marion Cotillard) appears in the dream as a memory projection and sabotages their progress. Saito reveals that he is in fact testing Cobb’s team to see if they are able to perform a particularly tricky procedure known as ‘inception’ – implanting an idea into the mind of a target while they are dreaming. Saito intends to break up a conglomerate that threatens his own interests, that of Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite) who is nearing death and is due to hand over the business to his son, Robert (Cillian Murphy).
Cobb assembles his team: Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger; Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who supplies the strong sedative required to go into a multi-layered dream state; Ariadne (Page), a student architect who is enlisted to design the complex dreamscapes; and Arthur. Saito insists on accompanying them on the mission and claims that if the operation is successful, he will pull strings to enable Cobb to enter the US to see his estranged children (the authorities believe he was somehow responsible for Mal’s death which was a suicide). When the elder Fischer dies in Sydney and his body is flown back to Los Angeles, the team engineer themselves onto the flight with Robert and sedate him for the gruelling task ahead. At each dream level, the team member to whom the dream belongs stays behind to initiate the ‘kick’ that will wake everyone up at the required time. However, it isn’t long before Cobb and the others realise that the operation will be difficult, as they discover that Fischer has been trained to defend his subconscious by physically attacking intruders. Numerous changes to the original plan are going to be needed if Cobb is to succeed and exorcise the memory of Mal, who continues to haunt his dreams.
There are only two words that can possibly describe Inception: absolutely stunning. True, you will have to keep up, because this is no ordinary action film with its über-complicated storyline and subplots pinging around from all directions, but underneath the apparently impossible labyrinth of ideas is a film full of beauty and richness that may very well need more than one watch. The vast majority of the film is taken up by breathtaking action sequences and these are punctuated by the necessary talkie scenes, but these drive the plot forward instead of being irrelevant as they are in many films of the same genre. The CGI could have overwhelmed the production, but Nolan employed many techniques in order to keep the virtual world a necessity instead of an obligation. At the beginning of the climax where a corridor revolves during a fight and Cobb’s team float as they dream, there is a great deal of mechanics involved rather than your usual effects done on a computer – you can easily see on-screen how this benefits the visuals immeasurably.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives his best performance to date, by far. Finally throwing off the shackles of Jack in Titanic and many subsequent roles where his leading man tag just didn’t really fit, DiCaprio’s Cobb is convincing, believable, sincere and mature – proof at last that he can lead a film from the front and not have to rely on his co-stars. Speaking of which, his fellow cast members are equally proficient in turning in fantastic performances. Apparently to Nolan as Paul Rudd is to Judd Apatow (i.e. no audition required), Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again delivers, showing his versatility as an actor in both the action and rom-com genres. Ellen Page shows she can do more than lacklustre, overrated films such as Juno as the audience’s proxy, Ariadne. Tom Hardy, the flavour of the year who is currently appearing in at least three films at a local cinema near you, proves he is no slouch with comic timing and a role featuring plenty of action scenes for him to get his teeth into. Christopher Nolan’s direction is flawless and is a clear example of a director who is not only top of his game, but is also willing to try an array of techniques to maximise the impact of his films.
If you’ve seen Inception once but decided it wasn’t for you, then you’re missing a treat. Nolan puts a great deal of faith in his audience to take everything in, but you’ll hopefully realise how much of an achievement the film really is – he has most certainly raised the bar as far as combining entertainment with thought-provoking drama is concerned.