Fortunately for the viewer, the dream state is mostly very fancy window dressing for what's basically a classic heist movie. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento", "The Dark Knight"), "Inception" centers around a team of highly-paid, highly-specialized bandits, led by a charismatic and brilliant - but troubled - master thief. But rather than cracking impenetrable bank vaults, their specialty is robbing treasures stored in the mind.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the team's leader, Cobb, an "extractor" adept at breaking into the dreams of his subject and pulling out valuable information he/she has locked deeply in his subconscious. Cobb and his crew are able to group-dream with their target and create an elaborate con operation within the mind, tricking the subject into revealing his/her secrets. (How they are able to do this is glossed over in half-mumbled exposition, but basically it involves the usual "technology derived from secret government experiments" bull-pucky.)
As one can imagine, Cobb's work is immensely valuable to shady government agencies and powerful captains of industry. One such entity - a Japanese industrialist named Saito (Ken Watanabe) - offers Cobb the opportunity to pull the ultimate heist. In this case, the impossible job is inception - planting an idea into the subject's mind, rather than extracting information. Saito hires Cobb to plant an idea in the mind of his competitor (Cillian Murphy) that will lead him to dismantle his own company. In return, Saito promises to fix Cobb's legal troubles in the U.S. (he's wrongly accused of murder, natch) so he can return to his young children in the states.
To pull off this "one last job", Cobb enlists a team of specialists: a chemist (Dileep Rao), a "forger" who can impersonate people in the dreamscape (Tom Hardy) and his right-hand man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He also needs a new architect - someone who can create the world of the dream. He turns to Ariadne (Ellen Page), the brightest student of his own architecture mentor - and father (Michael Caine). Ariadne is immediately seduced by the possibilities of the project, yet is the first to get an in-depth peek into Cobb's troubled mind during one of their group-dream training sessions.
Cobb's woes, it seems, are more than legal. His subconscious guilt tends to worm its way into the dreams in the form of his dead wife, Molly (Marion Cotillard). Unfortunately, Cobb's increasing inability to control Molly's presence could sink the whole operation. Like her namesake, the mythological spinner who helped lead Theseus out of the labyrinth, Ariadne is compelled to try and save Cobb from his own psychological minotaur before he takes the team down with him.
Mazes and labyrinths feature prominently in "Inception", and Nolan uses as much subterfuge as possible to distract the audience into wondering which is real and which is dream. Nolan takes a basic (practically cliched) story and tricks it out with snazzy visuals, dream logic and an extensive set of psycho-sci-fi rules for operating in the dream state. The result is dazzling, disorienting and rather uneven. While Nolan gives us some pretty amazing set pieces and effects - such as when Ariadne imagines a Paris street doubling over on itself, and a which-way-is-up chase scene - he also puts his characters through some silly, overdramatic "learning" moments.
The characters themselves are more symbolic than anything else (most likely by design), so they're not especially deep. Page and DiCaprio are always interesting to watch, and both do an admirable job keeping the train on the tracks. Nolan enlists a fine supporting cast, including Tom Berenger (!) and members of his "Batman" cast: Murphy, Caine and Watanabe (who is great, but should not be relied upon for exposition, due to the thick accent).
In addition to some uneven directing, "Inception" suffers a bit due to length: a hefty 2 hours and 22 minutes, to be exact. Nolan is brilliant at building suspense and tension, but as seen in the latest "Batman" movies, the action scenes leave much to be desired and they're hard to sit through before reaching the payoff in the final shot. Still, "Inception" is visually stunning and inventive - a clever twist on the heist genre. Audiences who've been eagerly awaiting the film may find it's not a dream come true, but it's certainly head and shoulders above the usual nightmare summer schlock.
|Summary||The traditional heist formula gets a head-spinning, flashy psychological upgrade.|