Dom Cobb specializes in the world of corporate espionage. He has a reputation for being the best in the business for finding the deepest of corporate secrets. He does this through the infiltration of dreams and using a specialized technology that lets him and his associates construct a shared dream world. Once their target is in this world, then their secrets are pretty much Cobb’s for the picking, but only because of Cobb’s advanced use of the technology and deep understanding of the human subconscious.
Cobb’s talents though have made him a wanted man in the United States, and since the death of his wife Mal (related to their work in dreams), he’s desperate to be able to come back to the States and be a real father to their children. Dom gets his chance thanks to a ruthless corporate head named Saito. Saito wants Dom and his associates to infiltrate the dreams of a corporate rival. But instead of taking a secret from him, Saito wants Cobb to implant an idea through a process that they call Inception. Inception has never been performed successfully, but Saito has promised Cobb that if he can perform this, Saito will use his connections to clear Cobb’s way to get back to his family.
Of course, Cobb accepts the mission and what follows is one hell of a terrific and extremely smart ride.
Inception is the much awaited new film from director (and writer) Christopher Nolan. Nolan of course made huge waves with his second film, the low-budget Memento and has since become a real power player with Warner Brothers since helming Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (and about to go even further with him shepherding the next iteration of Superman for film). Inception, from what I understand, has been an idea that he’s been developing since making Memento. That long thought and planning is very much evident on the big screen.
I tend to think of this film as the sort of thing you might get if you mashed art house guys like Peter Greenaway (who’s been known to make movies where he’s set himself some specific rules for how his films unfold) and David Lynch (who’s readily dealt with dream interpretation in his past work) with just a touch of a hardcore action filmmaker. This combination doesn’t exactly make for what one tends to think of as a typical summer blockbuster. Yet, it really does work. And further, this harkens back to Memento, giving you the type of movie that you can watch again and again just to see how all the pieces work together.
This film is a mix of two things: an intense character study and your classic caper film. On one end, we get a very intense character with Dom Cobb and Cobb has a pretty dark past with the death of his wife, Mal. This is so ingrained in Dom that even in the midst of a shared dream world, Mal will manifest herself and threaten the entire operation. As this progresses, Dom must come to grips with his involvement in his wife’s death while still staying on point with the task at hand.
On the other end, we have the classic caper film- and as with all good caper films, we have some clear rules for how things are supposed to play out. Of course though, nothing ever sticks to the plan in the end of these movies and everything gets incredibly screwed up.
Add in the idea of dealing with deep layers of the subconscious and you’ve got some pretty impressive meat to chew on here.
It’s all skillfully handled and a lot of credit has to go to the editing of the film- especially in the film’s second half where eventually we end up seeing Cobb’s team dealing with the main dream and then three stages of dreams within the main dream. This could easily become confusing if you don’t have a deft touch on the cutting room floor. As complicated as this becomes, it’s never confusing to follow- as long as you’re paying attention. Kudos to Mister Nolan and film editor Lee Smith (Smith should get an Oscar nomination for his work here).
Inception certainly looks terrific thanks to some pretty smart production design and the sure eye of cinematographer Wally Pfister (who’s worked on every Nolan film except for Following). I also have to give high marks to Hans Zimmer for a knockout score- it’s not atypical of his previous action work and it’s particularly effective as the caper plays out.
None of this would work if you didn’t have a cast that’s ready to convict to the ideas here in spades, and fortunately Nolan has that cast. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb and there’s a lot of similarities here to what we’ve seen from him earlier in the year with Shutter Island (I wasn’t that taken with Shutter Island on the first viewing and certainly owe it another shot down the road). The difference here is that it wasn’t as apparent to me what his final resolution was going to be as it was in Shutter Island. What DiCaprio brings to this though is a an intensity that feels authentic to a man who spends a deep amount of time and study to the dream world and knowing just how harmful that world can be. He’s the anchor here, but as we find out, you’re just not sure how sturdy that anchor is and DiCaprio is pretty convincing on that end.
DiCaprio’s got a lot of excellent support. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays his right hand man, Arthur. Gordon-Levitt’s certainly come a long way since Angels in the Outfield and Third Rock From The Sun. Now he’s strictly support here and does a solid job of being Cobb’s second. But even as support he gets a true area to shine in one of the film’s most innovative and imaginative action scenes in the caper’s second dream stage. This scene, even though it’s skillfully edited with the other layers, is a standout and you have to figure a lot of credit goes to Gordon-Levitt’s conviction to make this play just right. Ellen Page plays Ariadne who becomes Cobb’s new Architect for building a dream world. Page is one of those actors that you can always see has a brain in her head when she’s on-screen. It pays off here handsomely as she tries to figure out everything she can about Cobb’s demons.
Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao make up the rest of Cobb’s team. Hardy plays Eames who acts as the Forger and can literally shapeshift himself in the dreamworld to play specific people in the subconscious. Dileep Rao plays Yusif who acts as the sedative supplier to the team and has his own special concoction that can work through three layers of the subconscious as well as connect up to 12 people at one time. Both are solid, but Hardy really stands out here with his own brand of self-confidence.
It doesn’t stop there either. Ken Watanabe plays Saito, the man who wants Cobb to do the job. There’s just one catch, Saito wants to go in with Cobb’s team and see firsthand that the job gets done. Now Watanabe’s good here, but I have to admit I had a little trouble following some of his dialogue in some places. Some of that though I chalk up to the theatre that I saw this in and where I sat, so I expect something different when I’ll next see this. Cillian Murphy plays Robert Fischer, Jr.- the Mark. Up to the point where we first see him, this whole film has centered around Cobb and his team. So Murphy has to do his best to give you a pretty rounded character in a short amount of time and he certainly does here. Tom Berenger (man, it’s cool to see Berenger in a movie like this- sort of like how cool it was to see Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins) plays Browning, Fischer’s advisor and he’s certainly good there, but he gets to go in for double duty when Eames assumes Browning’s identity in the dream world and he brings in some nice subtleties.
Finally though, I have to give extremely high marks to Marion Cotilliard who plays Mal, Dom’s wife. First, she’s just gorgeous, an absolutely beautiful woman but that’s just the surface. She’s the root of Cobb’s own problems and so whenever she comes on screen, then she’s got to carry a lot of weight and a lot of presence and she certainly does. And as we get further and further in, she has some pretty heavy and harrowing moments that are indelible.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a movie that has dealt with the world of dreams and the perception of reality. Dreams have been dealt with in things like Dreamscape and the anime Paprika. Reality has certainly been dealt with in things like The Matrix movies, The Cell and Vanilla Sky. But rarely do we get to see something that takes it as far as what Inception does (The Matrix[ films being the ones that next do it best in my mind). This is the sort of film that demands being seen again and again. Oh, I certainly had a satisfying experience the first time, but there’s just so many layers of depth here that certainly makes me want to see it again). Don’t miss this one, make it a point to see it in a theatre on the best screen you can- you’ll be glad you did.
Without a doubt, another film that will definitely figure in as one of the best that I’ve seen for 2010. Inception is highly, highly recommended.