Christopher Nolan is one of the smartest, most sophisticated directors working today - if not the best. Ever since he marched onto the scene with Memento, the director has churned out one sophisticated thriller after the next. He masterfully blends mainstream delivery with an intelligence rarely seen in blockbusters. Inception is his latest masterpiece, an action-heist movie that works like The Matrix, only with ten more layers of complexity added for good measure.
Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a thief who specializes in manipulating dreams to steal ideas. Wanted in the United States, Cobb's only desire is to return home to his children, a desire that could be fulfilled if he pulls off one final criminal act: a process known as "inception," where he and his team goes into another man's subconscious to plant and idea that will affect his conscious decision.
If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Inception is one of the most complex movies ever put to screen; the movie consists of several worlds layered on top of each other, and they all affect the physics of the next. The first half of the movie is often confusing as Nolan begins to pile on the elements that will come into full display in the second half; he rarely eases up to fully explain what's going on. The first time you see Inception (and it won't be the last), you'll be inclined to pay attention to every detail, expecting to be lost at the slightest blink. I, personally, thought Nolan was going to pull a fast one on the audience at some point. In hindsight, my advice to others is to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
As confusing as Inception is in some ways, Nolan's intention isn't to dupe or deceive the audience. Though it takes a while for the pieces to fall into place, the movie is, at its core, a heist movie. When it clicks into gear, the movie becomes a visceral experience unlike any other. Very few films can be adequately compared to The Matrix, but Inception is such a film. It isn't as action-packed as The Matrix, but it still rivals that film in imagination, special effects and excitement. The worlds Nolan has developed feature some of the best special effects ever seen, and yet he never goes overboard with what he has at his disposal. Maybe that's because he has some of the best actors supporting the story; beyond DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy all have significant roles. Inception is like The Matrix, only a lot more complex and with better actors.
If Inception has flaws, it's that Nolan spends so much time digging into DiCaprio's characters that he forgets to develop everyone else. Page is initially established as a secondary lead, but she quickly turns into a mechanism to reveal more of DiCaprio's secrets; her motivations are never explored. The same goes for Gordon-Levitt, Hardy and Watanabe; they're players in the game, nothing more.
Still, DiCaprio delivers another outstanding performance, as does Cotillard and Murphy.
As far as action goes, those looking for nonstop quantities of the stuff might not find exactly what they're looking for, but Nolan maintains a fast pace full of exciting developments. When the movie does switch to action mode, however, it won't disappoint. Simultaneously resembling The Matrix and James Bond, Inception features some spectacular sequences. The scenes set in the gravity-defying hotel are especially mind-blowing.
Inception is a movie that will get better in time, but it's already a masterpiece of epic scope. The movie is original, smart and extremely sophisticated, and yet it is wholly accessible as a blockbuster action movie, too. The visuals and concepts rival The Matrix, and that alone is a feat few pictures have achieved. Inception is one of the best movies of 2010.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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