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The Independent Critic

Leonardo Dicaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy
Christopher Nolan
Rated R
148 Mins.
Warner Brothers Pictures
Suffice it to say "a ton."

 "Inception" Review 
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I can't help but wonder.

I wonder what kind of audiences are going to show up for writer/director Christopher Nolan's new film, Inception?

I wonder if the film, coming on the heels of the mega success of Nolan's The Dark Knight, can come close to that film's stellar box-office numbers.

I wonder who will declare Inception to be cinematic greatness and, likewise, I wonder who will declare the film to be nothing but hollow hype.

I wonder if I understand the film.

Even remotely.

I wonder, a lot, about the multi-layered mind of Nolan that could even manifest a film such as Inception.

I wonder.

In Inception, Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best of the best in the dangerous art of high stakes extraction, the stealing of ideas from the subconscious during the ultra vulnerable dream state. This high risk, high reward method of corporate espionage has left Dom an international fugitive who has lost virtually everything that means anything to him.

There's one last shot at redemption, but it comes at a high cost. Dom must pull of the act of inception, not the stealing of ideas but the planting of them in hopes of pulling off the ultimate crime and, perhaps, receiving the ultimate reward.

Inception is, without a doubt, Christopher Nolan's reward film. Easily one of the most bankable filmmakers in Hollywood whose name does not end in Cameron, Christopher Nolan directed The Dark Knight, Hollywood's highest grossing film outside the James Cameron universe. Even before The Dark Knight, Nolan had garnered tremendous respect over the course of such films as Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige and Batman Begins.

With an estimated production budget of $200 million rumored, Inception is Nolan's reward for such a fine catalogue of work and, yet, I dare say the film will be hard pressed to capture back its budget unless positive word-of-mouth and the fanboys unite for repeated viewings of the multi-layered, otherly atmospheric film.

Let's be honest. The trailer for Inception is itself confusing, not exactly an invitation for the typically spoon-fed American audience and it doesn't exactly draw you into the story. Truth be told, I'm not sure a movie trailer even could do the trick.

Inception has different layers, floors and universes all semi-neatly wrapped around by a rather fundamental sci-fi/crime thriller. Inception won't draw you in with its compelling story or sympathetic storylines, though certainly Dom's grief becomes a key player as to how the action unfolds. The emotional experience is secondary in Inception, a stimulant for the intellect and for the senses in the way that subconscious and imagery collides throughout the film.

As I began writing this review, I found myself reflecting upon the Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come, a film that attempted but largely failed to create a sense of an other world. More recently, Peter Jackson attempted to blend humanity and heaven in The Lovely Bones with decidedly mixed results.

While you may not embrace Inception, and not embracing it would be fully understandable, it is nearly impossible to deny that Nolan has succeeded in creating layers upon layers of another world that exists in the subconscious, the conscious and everything in between and beyond. Whereas James Cameron's Avatar magnificently utilized 3-D imagery to previously unseen heights, I'd dare say that Inception transcends Avatar by Nolan's ability to utilize technology to create a world unlike anything you've ever seen unfold on the big screen.

Nolan could likely script a Pixar film, because Nolan refuses to dumb down or simply his films. Is this conceit or respect? At different moments, both points could be arguable. It does, however, add pressure to Nolan as filmmaker because it requires him to write, direct and film with crystal clarity and sense of purpose. Without the usual 1/3 of the film devoted to fundamental exposition, Nolan immediately begins by planting his characters inside the worlds where they exist.

On a certain level, Dom is a character that DiCaprio could portray in his sleep, a wounded charmer oozing both confidence and vulnerability. Yet, this is easily DiCaprio's best performance in years, a disciplined and layered, hypnotic and vulnerable turn that will leave you pondering his image long after the closing credits have rolled by. DiCaprio is surrounded by a stellar team that includes his right-hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Yusuf (Dileep Rao), Eames (Tom Hardy) and newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page), who will help Dom construct the Dreamscapes.

The mission, as simply as can be defined in the written word, is for Dom and his team to plant an idea into the dreams of a competitor (Cillian Murphy) on behalf of a powerful client, Saito (Ken Watanabe). If he is successful, Dom can be cleared of a crime and, more importantly, reunited with his children.

Some will argue that technology overwhelms Inception, a reasonable argument given the sheer awesomeness of the film's imagery and special effects. Yet, when contemplated further, it simply is not true. Instead, Nolan remains a writer/director with tremendous integrity by creating and remaining committed to this multi-layered universe that incorporates the subconscious experience into the conscious experience. To have simply poured on the emotions would have been lazy, unimaginative filmmaking. Instead, the film's emotional experience is seen largely through the eyes of the subconscious experience and the result, at times muted and frustrating, is remarkably authentic if unnerving.

In addition to DiCaprio's stellar performance, Joseph Gordon Levitt gives the film's workhorse performance with tremendous heart and muscle, while Marion Cotillard is marvelous as Mal, Dom's wife both consciously and subconsciously. The remainder of the supporting cast may very well be the year's best ensemble so far in 2010. Incredible kudos to Wally Pfister for simply astounding cinematography, while Hans Zimmer's original music will most assuredly be recognized come awards season.

Inception does not achieve greatness, at times falling short of the blend between conscious and subconscious and at times crossing the line a tad too far into simple action thriller.  Yet, when so many Hollywood films settle for paint-by-numbers mediocrity it is impossible to not, minimally, have a deep appreciation for a film of such rich uniqueness, complexity and conviction. Destined to be on countless Top 10 lists come year's end, Inception is amazing and awe-inspiring cinema.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic