Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inception / **** (PG-13)

Cobb: Leonardo DiCaprio
Arthur: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Ariadne: Ellen Page
Mal: Marion Cotillard
Saito: Ken Watanabe
Eames: Tom Hardy
Yusuf: Dileep Rao
Robert Fischer, Jr.: Cillian Murphy
Browning: Tom Berenger

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Running time: 148 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action throughout).

“I’ve gotta tell you about this crazy dream I had!” How many times in your life have you heard that exclamation from a friend or family member? My wife uses this line all the time. Usually I’m in trouble because of something I did to her in her dream. But any way you turn it, we all have dreams, and when we’re awake, those dreams can seem both weird and wonderful. I have no doubt that Christopher Nolan’s new movie “Inception” will seem weird to many, but it is also oh, so wonderful!

“Inception” is delicious cinema. ‘Cinema’ is really the word for it. It’s not a movie. It is epic in scope and imagination. It is sublimely beautiful to look at. It is intellectually engaging. It is far out. And it’s just plain cool. It’s also quite simply a unique way of telling a basic cinematic mainstay—the big heist picture.

The caper flick has been around for almost as long as cinema. With “Inception”, writer/director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) has not so much reinvented it as he has displaced it into a world with different rules than any in which it has ever existed. Nolan places his heist inside the world of dreams. Not the dreams of children, or even the nightmares of grown ups, but in the very refined and structured imaginations of men of high power and business. The dreams of men you might actually gain something by stealing from.

The thieves are just as refined as their victims. Lead by Cobb, they consist of men and women with specialized intelligence and skill. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “(500) Days of Summer”) is the team’s point man; he guides the direction of the job in the dreamscape. The architect builds the world of the dream, which is themn populated with people and details by the dreamer. After a job goes wrong in the opening sequence, Cobb recruits and trains a new architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page, “Juno”). Eames (Tom Hardy, “Bronson”) is the team’s forger, a specialist who can impersonate other people in the dreamscape. Because of the complexity of the job they’re hired for, the team also recruits a chemist named Yusuf (Dileep Rao, “Drag Me To Hell”), who designs a drug that will keep the mark and the team in the proper state of unconsciousness throughout the duration of the job.

Cobb is the team’s extractor. On most jobs it’s his duty to extract the information the crew is trying to steal. On this caper, the twist is that they are not extracting information, but rather planting an idea, this is called inception. As played by Leonardo DiCaprio (“Shutter Island”), Cobb works with a heavy heart. He used to be an architect, but something happened and he refuses to build dreamscapes any longer. The most disturbing thing about Cobb is that his deceased wife (Marion Cotillard, “Public Enemies”) has a habit of showing up in any dream he finds himself in and she acts out violently. These mysteries about Cobb drive much of the first half of the film, which might otherwise only consist of exposition.

Nolan’s greatest accomplishment with this film is the way he works the dreamscape itself into the explanation of how the dreamscape works. Even in the visually stunning opening dream sequence, before the audience understands the rules of how the dreamscape works, his direction leads the audience through not one, but two dreams, without missing a step. While we don’t necessarily understand everything we’re seeing, it unfolds with clarity and with efficiency. Even when Cobb spends a lengthy section of the film explaining to Ariadne how they are able to manipulate other people’s dreams, Nolan surrounds the exposition with stunning visuals, such as one scene where Aridadne folds the city she constructed over on itself.

By the time the team finally zeroes in on its mark, an heir to a multibillion dollar oil company (Cillian Murphy, “Batman Begins”), we have a sound understanding of exactly how these dreamscapers operate and to what rules they must abide. Even when an untold element of the caper is revealed to the team, we aren’t thrown by being unfamiliar with the way this game operates.

The dream sequences are filled with thrilling action, stunning visuals and, somehow, a strange sense of familiarity. I believe the familiarity is caused by the fact that Nolan has built his fantasy heist on such a strong foundation of rules and restrictions of how dreams work. There is one sequence involving a car crash within one of the dreams that, I felt sure, held some sort of gaff in its execution. I went over and over it from different angles trying to prove its flaw after the film. But no matter how I came at the scene, I couldn’t produce a flaw in its logic. Not that it would’ve mattered. I was already in love with the film, flaws or not.

“Inception” is by far Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious project. This is no slight claim, since Nolan has made his career out of ambitious project after ambitious project. He almost single handedly turned the comic book genre into legitimate drama with “Batman Begins” and its even more impressive sequel “The Dark Knight”. His overlooked “Insomnia” realized the psychological tension of the crime thriller with its stunning winter visuals alone. And his breakthrough film “Memento” proved that even the most confusing of conceptual work could be clearly rendered by his sure-handed story and structure. I’m beginning to wonder just what cinematic barriers Christopher Nolan can’t push.

Inception | Movie Trailers

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