After impressing the cinema going public with such standout movies such as Momento and The Prestige (two films as notoriously twisty as a piece of fusilli), Christopher Nolan all but cemented his domination of the intelligent blockbuster with The Dark Knight, a groundbreaking comic book movie that flexed the grey matter just as much as it flexed it’s muscles. As it took the world by storm the world wondered what on earth would the director do next; after all, worldwide acclaim – not to mention a billion dollar plus worldwide box office gross – tends to give you a fair amount of freedom in a business where you’re only considered as good as your last film. By this measure, Christopher Nolan was very, very good indeed.
Well thankfully the man didn’t disappoint and subsequently unleashed the mind-spasming Inception upon us all, a film that’s a least as pulse pounding and brain scrambling as a major concussion and that I personally consider to be the director’s best movie to date.
Dominick Cobb, along with his partner in crime, Arthur, are thieves of a very particular kind of nature; you see the type of things they steal are ideas, memories or concepts and they take them by breaking into your very mind. They do this with the help of a special machine and some very exact sedatives to place their minds INTO the dreams of their victim and creating a specific fake reality in order to trick or goad sensitive information out of the unsuspecting schmuck. Usually hired by corporations looking to gain an illegal foothold on a competitor via a spot of dodgy industrial espionage, Cobb and his team find themselves in a bit of a bind when they attempt their subconscious shenanigans on Satio only to find out the man is testing them in order to counter-hire them for another job. This mind heist would require them to attempt an “inception”, an act of placing an idea INTO the subconscious of a subject instead of taking information out; specifically putting the germ of a notion into the noodle of the son of a recently deceased and VERY power magnate to break up his fathers massive empire in order that it doesn’t create a global monopoly.
Cobbs agrees as Saito claims he has the pull to get charges dropped from Cobb’s mysterious past and get him legal passage to get back to the States and finally see his kids again and they start to build a team in order to construct this mind bogglingly complex plan. Adding wide eyed, curious young student Ariadne, charismatic forger Eames, chemist Yusuf and Saito himself as an observer, the group mount this bizarre breaking and entry of the brain by stealthily intercepting their target on a flight but find things are going to be as straight forward as it seems (not that it particularly was in the first place) as numerous problems beset them from the get-go, not least among them is Mal, Cobb’s subconscious guilt over the death of his wife given form as his spouse twisted into a vengeful saboteur. As the group descend into a plan that involves multiple layers of dreamscape, all with different environments, hazards and times frames, and with their carefully crafted timetable coming apart almost instantly, can they ever hope to wake up ever again, or will they sink into limbo, trapped in their own minds for what will seem like an eternity?
To state that Inception is a complex movie is sort of like saying that Cleopatra is a bit long, and yet Nolan’s real triumph is that despite all the parallel timelines running at different speeds (a subject he returned to for Dunkirk), devastating imagery involving cityscapes folding like a sheet of A4 and impossible architecture (both mischievously stolen by Dr Strange), he somehow never loses focus in the story, never letting the gawp-inducing visuals hijack the movie. In fact, for a film that concerns the limitless of the human mind, Inception is remarkably straight forward, never over-selling it’s trippy delights and letting them out stay their welcome. Such sights include Arthur fighting in a hotel corridor while gravity desides to take five and grab a lunch and a train barreling down a main street, smashing cars out of the way like an American Football player pumped on steroids, but even when Nolan is allowing the world around his cast to warp like a plank of wood left out in the rain, it’s still all strictly adhering to the set rules the movie dedicates itself to. For example whatever occurs on one level of dreaming directly affects the level below which causes things like strange weather patterns and gravity switching on and off at random intervals. For most part the movie manages to keep it’s head admirably above water when it comes to the sheer amount of things you have to remember to avoid becoming more lost than a toddler in a supermarket and what helps tremendously is the film’s cast.
Enough nice things can’t be said about the supporting ensemble – the irritable chalk and cheese relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s uptight Arthur and Tom Hardy’s sardonic Eames, in particular, is good fun – it’s Leo DiCaprio (looking suspiciously like Nolan himself) who holds the whole thing together. Churning out virtually non-stop exposition for the entire film, DiCaprio never once FEELS like he’s churning out exposition even though all his character seems to do is explain what, who, when and how everything is happening to anyone within earshot. It’s a deceptively amazing performance that in miscast hands could have caused the film to slow to a boring crawl at regular intervals, but Leo infuses it with a paradox of a character who is seemingly in control while who simultaneously doubts the very reality he lives in as he twirls his iconic “totem”, a spinning wheel he uses to tell whether he’s dreaming or not.
Nolan’s grasp on satisfying action beats maybe isn’t as tight as it could be with a third act firefight – set in a snow bound fortress any Bond villain would be proud of – feeling a little sloppy and unfocused; but he manages to nail his concepts where and when it counts, so much in fact that Inception is extraordinarily fucking tense thanks to the hair trigger timing it takes to get everyone out of a dream-heist alive. Helping immeasurably, as always, is Nolan’s serial contributor, composer Hans Zimmer, who provides a predictably exhilarating score for all the dream-creeping and snoozing skullduggery.
An absolute wonder from start to finish (that a major studio would bank roll an expensive project like this and that it succeeded in making money is nothing short of supremely gratifying), this is an intelligent, imaginative and entertaining experience that can easily shoulder to shoulder with other movies of it’s ilk (The Matrix instantly comes to mind) and despite the labyrinth of details you have to remember, it handles like a dream.
Don’t agree? Then I suggest you sleep on it and see if your mind changes…