Christopher Nolan, the man behind The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, The Prestige and Memento, is fast proving himself to be one of the most prolific and unpredictable directors working in Hollywood today. His films all have a certain film noir style and all are not what you consider to be your traditional Hollywood flick. He made us take Batman seriously again and he has taken us on one more than one twist filled thriller before in the likes of Insomnia, Memento and The Prestige. But now I think it is fair to say he has topped himself yet again with a thriller like no other. It is almost like a heist movie but taken in a whole different direction through the world of dreams, and dreams within dreams. Nolan creates visually stunning environments, but that isn’t what is important here. The environments serve the story (take note James Cameron) and he takes us on a rollercoaster ride with Leonardo DiCaprio and his team that you’ll want to go on again as soon as you step off.
Now I’m going to try to explain the basic structure of the plot without trying to give too much away, as I’d hate to ruin this for anyone. If you’d prefer not to know of any plot details then skip this paragraph now. The story follows DiCaprio as Tom Cobb, a man who is the best at what he does, extracting. This is the art of going into people’s dreams and stealing information and secrets for the benefit of his employers. Cobb is offered a job that is unlike any other he has taken on before, instead of extracting a piece of information he is given the task of implanting an idea inside the mind of a rival businessman. It is known as Inception. Cobb takes the job as he sees it as his last chance to find his way back home. He assembles a team to assist in the task, going right down to construction and execution, he’ll need all the help he can get. But for Cobb to successfully complete the task, he must come face to face with his own inner demons and come to terms with what is reality and what is a dream.
The depth that the story goes into and still manages to create some awe-inspiring sequences is not short of a work of genius. The characterisation of Cobb is the driving force behind the story, which without it, it would be just put a heist movie with one hell of a twisty concept. While at times the Cobb story does slow the pacing of the quick and highly exciting action scenes, it’s still very engrossing and it leads to some great tension, as the edits cut back between the different dream stages. The different stages of the dreams flow excellently as the Inception mission builds to its tense conclusion. The many different story elements are so expertly crafted together that it’s hard to find a character not to enjoy seeing on-screen, and the Cobb storyline is perfectly balanced with the mind-bending action, so much so that THAT ending is just that more frustrating and oh so brilliant. The action itself is outstanding, particularly the sequences involving Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a corridor in which gravity changes position all the time. It is an amazing sequence that flows effortlessly and is utterly convincing, thanks to a great mix of practical and special effects. The snow-bound final act is very reminiscent of a great James Bond movie, with its quick action and great landscapes. This is certainly a movie that delivers in both the action and story stakes without each one having to compensate for the other.
The movie is once again an excellent vehicle for DiCaprio, who has now dealt with two weird dreamy movies on the bounce with this after Shutter Island. His character is very complex, yet he seems to make it effortless and is very comfortable under the direction of Nolan, just as he is with Scorsese. He delivers a fine performance and he is surely cementing himself as one of Hollywood’s most dependable and talented leading men. But Nolan certainly has a great ensemble cast here, Ellen Page puts in a much more mature performance and does more than just getting pregnant as the Architect of the group, she acts as the representative for the audience as we find out the logistics of the dream world as she does. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows some good capabilities with demanding action scenes, as he gets the fun action scenes and the high wire stunt work. Tom Hardy brings a good British edge and humour to his role as Eames. Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe round out the supporting cast with some nice cameo roles from Tom Berenger, who I haven’t seen in anything since Platoon, and Christopher Nolan’s lucky charm Michael Caine. Marion Cotillard is also a stand out in the cast, although I won’t specify her role. She is vulnerable, yet at times quite creepy, it is a top-rate performance from an excellent actress.
Initially at the start of this movie, I was having trouble wrapping my head around what exactly was going on, but once the audience learn the ways in which everything works and the movie goes into overdrive once Cobb’s team begin their mission it is just too darn good. It does feel like it should be the sort of movie that shouldn’t live up to hype and one that shouldn’t astound as it does, but this exceeds expectations by far. Every element is carefully thought out from Han Zimmer’s best solo score since Gladiator to the noir cinematography from Wally Pfister. It is going to be very hard for Nolan to top this one with his next movie, which will more than likely be Batman 3. But then again, this is one director that you can’t quite put your finger on. And the ending leads to some interesting debates, really is a bloody tease!