CAPSULE: There comes a point when enough is too much. Writer and director Christopher Nolan makes an intelligent thought-piece that is at the same time an explosive action thriller. There is little time to absorb the ideas. Still, where else are you going to get so intelligent a film in mid-summer? It may be better to see it more than once. In a world where a few people have the capability of invading and redesigning dreams, a team induces dreams in the heir to an industrial empire and then enters those dreams to plant an idea. This is a long film with a lot of fiery explosions, intelligent ideas, sputtering machine guns, and violent car crashes. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Spoiler warning: This review may contain some minor spoilers, but it will be a small fraction of what one learns from trailers and phone apps ad publicity for the film.
People frequently ask science fiction authors, "Where do you get your ideas?" Director Christopher Nolan seems to specialize in films in which psychology is important. Here he suggests a process that might create some ideas. The process involves car chases, big explosions, drugs, cities folding in half, and perhaps industrial espionage. Since Nolan directed FOLLOWING in 1998 every film he has directed has been something of a gem. His 2006 film THE PRESTIGE has been pretty much his crowning achievement, though his second Batman film, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), has brought him the most attention. The theme of manipulating or visiting other people's minds and dreams goes back at least to ESCAPEMENT (1958), DREAMSCAPE (1984) and particularly THE CELL (2000). But it will be a long time before anyone tops INCEPTION.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his associate Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are experts at a very particular sort of industrial espionage. Cobb has a process, never disclosed, in which he is able to invade people's dreams and interact with the dreamer. In doing so he can find secrets from the unprepared minds of his victims. And at the same time he can plant ideas in the mind of the victim. However, he is unsuccessful in invading the mind of a businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe of THE LAST SAMURAI). Saito is prepared for Cobb and defeats him, but offers Cobb a job. Saito wants to get into the dreams of the son of a competitor and plant an idea. He assembles a team of dream invaders who will specially induce dreams. They will actually build the multilayered world of dreams within dreams in the competitor's son's mind.
Nolan, who both wrote and directed, creates a complex mythology of the world of dreams and the rules that it follows. The rules are a little ridiculous, but in the world of the movie the viewer accepts them as plausible enough. This is a long film, 148 minutes, with a much more complex plot than I can describe here.
INCEPTION has a large, oddly matched, cast of good actors including Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, and Lukas Haas.
In a summer in which interesting ideas in films seem to be thin on the ground, this one film more than compensates. Nolan gets very high marks for being a man with new and engaging ideas. Usually if he is not making a "Batman" film his works are much more idea-films than action. Sadly, Nolan must have picked up bad habits from the "Batman" films, BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. A "Batman" film needs action scenes and frankly, he is not really good at directing them. They go by at staccato pace and frequently are hard to follow. In a "Batman" film one can accept that. INCEPTION has long violent sequences. He may be trying too hard to make this at the same time an intelligent thriller and a slam-bang, high-octane action thriller with lots of explosions. This is certainly his least pleasant film to watch, even if it does have many of his best ideas and images.
Nolan began THE PRESTIGE with the question, "Are you watching closely?" This film also requires that you watch closely to understand what is going on. Even for a film of 148 minutes, there is a lot going on. Much of it will be needed later in the film. I suspect this will be a better film on its second viewing. I rate INCEPTION a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1375666/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/inception/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper