(Christopher Nolan, 2010, USA)
It is reassuring to know that amidst the flood of brain-dead sequels, prequels and spin-offs churned out by Hollywood in the summer season, cinemagoers can find a properly rendered blockbuster with Inception, the latest think piece from maverick filmmaker Christopher Nolan which succeeds in demonstrating his infinite imagination and relentless originality.
Coming two years after the director delivered possibly the greatest (and highest grossing) superhero movie of all time in The Dark Knight, Nolan returns to familiar grounds, exploring innovative storylines which subvert viewer expectation whilst offering up narratives unlike anything you may have seen before. A key example of this is his mind-bending 2000 breakthrough film Memento, the brilliantly gritty revenge drama which pioneered the, now much replicated, technique of telling a story backwards. Indeed, Nolan is revisiting his trademark blend of arthouse aesthetics with big budget ‘popcorn’ entertainment with a highly complex film which, although forcing the audience to pay continuous attention, is rewarding as it treats them as the intellectuals they more or less are. Inception is never dumbed down or slacking in the thrills department, an estimable credit to the director and one that could never be found in anything produced by raucous directors such as Michael Bay, for example.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dominic Cobb, an expert in the field of corporate espionage and a thief for hire, whose employers task him with the job of “extracting” information from the minds of their unknowing victims for means of one-upmanship and staying ahead of the competition. Though highly skilled, Cobb is also a fugitive from his home in the United States and is haunted by the untimely death of his wife of which he is subsequently blamed for. After being approached with the opportunity of redemption and having his incriminated name expunged, Cobb accepts a challenging mission from powerful businessman Saito to plant an idea into the mind of a young opponent, Robert Fischer (Murphy), who has just inherited his father’s business, a business in which Saito is becoming increasingly powerless to compete with. This final job (‘inception’) for Cobb, if done properly, could bring about the destruction of Fischer’s business and a return to his two children. To execute the operation, Cobb arms himself with a mixed bag of highly trained collaborators; slick researcher Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), genius budding architect Ariadne (Page), shape-shifter Eames (Hardy), chemist Yusuf (Rao) and Saito himself.
So far, so puzzling, but the complexities don’t stop there; upon entering Fischer’s mind, the team discover that his subconscious has become militarised to resist hijacks such as this, forcing them to delve deeper into the dreamscape with the resulting action taking place in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. There is also a lengthy stopover in a limbo-like dream world which a conflicted Cobb may have already previously visited with his deceased wife, Mal (Cotillard), who constantly reappears as a vision to scupper their mission at every turn. Cobb must learn to let go of his perilous search for Mal or ruin the mission, endangering the lives of his team along the way.
Although regularly bewildering his audience with his trademark cinematic trickery, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is nevertheless an audacious, fascinatingly innovative and purely exceptional film which revels in its own bewitching imagination and ability to keep viewers happily in the dark and fervently buying into its most cerebral of universes. For a film to alienate its enthusiastic audience and keep them at a constant distance, forcing them to remain attentively persistent throughout its entire 148 minute runtime, Inception does what few others can by successfully mixing an engaging storyline with thought-provoking ethics, keeping the audience enthralled long after the curtains fall.
Unravelling as a far from generic heist movie, Nolan inserts his movie with enough action sequences and bravura cinematic techniques to match the dauntingly frenzied narrative. Like the impressive lorry flip in The Dark Knight and the visual trickeries found in The Prestige, Inception contains some phenomenally over the top and imaginative set-pieces which push the boundaries of action cinema and leave viewers with an insatiable thirst for repeat viewings. At one stage (and in one dream), set within a plush hotel, gravity begins to falter which makes way for a remarkably gritty fight scene where the laws of science do not apply, with two characters scaling the walls and ceilings of a corridor in desperate pursuit of triumph and also their bearings.
Performances are excellent, with DiCaprio on broodingly compassionate form (much like his detective in this years Shutter Island) alongside strong supporting roles from an impressive cast, in particular British star Tom Hardy who provides the film with its much needed humour as the sarcastic Eames, who has the ability to impersonate anyone within a dream world and also spar hilariously with Gordon-Levitt’s straight-laced Arthur. Nolan regular Michael Caine also has a small role and is as highly watchable as ever.
Though it takes a while afterwards to fathom its rich storyline and breathtaking visuals, Inception is a refreshingly inventive summer blockbuster which deserves its high acclaim and will leave audiences enthralled right up to its frustratingly open-ended climax.
Inception, 2010. [Film] Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.
The Dark Knight, 2008. [Film] Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Memento, 2000. [Film] Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA: Newmarket Capital Group.
The Prestige, 2006. [Film] Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA: Touchstone Pictures.
Shutter Island, 2010. [Film] Directed by Martin Scorsese, USA: Paramount Pictures.