Saturday, July 17, 2010


*Quick note - I am giving this film a Vader. If you look at my rating system, you'll see that I claim that Vader represents the "perfect" movie. I've been meaning to change this for a while. It should say "near-perfect." I don't believe there is a perfect movie (though I stand by my statement that Vader is a perfect villain), so I just want to clarify that I don't think "Inception" is perfect. It's just near-perfect.

Inception - Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Ellen Page - Rated PG-13

Yeah, it's a Vader. What of it?

is easily my most anticipated movie so far this year. It’s not because I loved the previews for it or I read some interviews or I heard the buzz about it. It’s because it’s directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight), it has an amazing cast, and it is based on an original script. That last one is almost unheard of in summer blockbuster land these days. I think it’s great that Nolan was able to get a huge amount of money to make a movie that didn’t have a built in audience. But there’s another reason why I like Inception; it’s the best film of the year so far.

I mentioned that the previews are not what garnered my interest in this film. In fact, I tried my best to avoid all information on this film. If I know I want to see a movie, then I don’t want anything ruined by the previews, which tend to give far too much of a film away. I bring this up because I am going to give a brief plot synopsis and I’m going to refer to specific scenes in this review. I’m not going to spoil anything, but if you’re like me, you may want to hold off on reading this review until you’ve seen the film. (Hopefully most of you aren’t like me and you’ll keep reading, though.)

Inception deals with dreams. There is no long introduction talking about the technology that was discovered that allowed people to inhabit others’ dreams or anything, though. The audience is thrown right in the middle of it all and you have to pick up information as you go. The film may completely baffle you in the first twenty minutes. I don’t want to be cliché and call “Inception” mind-bending, but I will say that it is a film that requires you to pay close attention. This film deals with dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams.

Dreams within dreams within dreams may sound complicated or even cliché itself when you think of past uses of the concept. It’s cliché in a horror movie kind of way where a character wakes up three or four times to be scared. It’s complicated in that it could potentially become a complete mess where you have no idea which dream you’re watching at any given time.

Inception doesn’t fall prey to either of these. I never felt cheated by Nolan when an “awake” scene turned into a dream. Nolan uses filmmaking standards in very interesting ways to create the dreams. A character asks another, “Do you remember how we got here?” As the audience, you don’t ask yourself that because it’s expected. In movies, characters suddenly change locations, even though their conversation keeps going on as if it never stopped for them to travel. That’s exactly how dreams work. First you’re here, and then you’re someplace completely different. The fact that there is no concrete signal that a dream is being shown made the movie very compelling to me.

That’s not to say that this film doesn’t feature moments that are completely dream-like and visually astounding. This film has a brain, but it is also just fun to watch. The horizon going vertical, excellent uses of slow motion, maze-like staircases that look like they go on forever but don’t, and, the best, zero gravity. Don’t go in expecting constant craziness in the dreams, though. The crew in the film (I promise I will talk about them specifically soon) is in a subject’s mind, trying to either extract information or insert an idea. To do that, the subject can’t know they’re dreaming (at least not at first), because when they realize it’s a dream they’ll wake up. So the dream world in “Inception” is not a magical land with wonderful creatures; it’s more like reality, but a bit off at times.

The dream within a dream thing never becomes too complicated. If I described how the last forty-five minutes played out, it would probably make your head spin. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan is the one telling the story, and he puts it together in such a way that I never wondered where the film was or what was happening. That is quite the feat, since at one point there are five versions of some characters in play. If you stop and think about it, it might confuse you (as it did me just now when I counted out the versions), but Nolan doesn’t give time to stop. The movie moves at such a great pace that you just go with it and it all, miraculously, makes sense.

Now for the crew. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the leader of the group. He has to put together a team to put an idea into a businessman’s head. If he does this, he’ll be able to go home. (I’ll leave why he can’t go home for you to find out when you watch it.) The whole team concept basically makes this film a heist/con movie. Cobb’s second in command is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Ariadne (Ellen Page) is brought in as a new architect for the dreams. Eames (Tom Hardy) is the forger (he can make himself look and sound like other people in the dreams). Yusuf (Dileep Rao) provides the sedatives that allow them to go into deep, deep sleep. And Saito (Ken Watanabe) is the benefactor along for the mission to make sure all goes well. The mark in this con is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), who brings a trusted colleague (Tom Berenger) along in his subconscious. Also roaming the dreams is Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s wife. And Michael Caine is thrown in for good measure as Cobb’s father, though he has more of a cameo in a couple of “awake” scenes.

Okay, I know that was going overboard in just listing characters and actors, but I felt that everyone deserved mention because it is one of the best casts I’ve ever seen assembled. I’m not saying there are any Oscar-worthy performances here (and there really aren’t), I’m just saying that all of these actors are great and they do a great job. It’s just that this is a summer blockbuster and the cast is so large that no one stands out above the others. It basically turns into who you like the most. In my case, I’m a big fan of DiCaprio these days and he gives yet another strong performance. I’ve also enjoyed most of Gordon-Levitt’s work and he’s great here, too. I even enjoyed Ellen Page, who usually annoys me. But Tom Hardy (who was amazing in Bronson) is by far the coolest. His joking with Gordon-Levitt provided some needed comic relief and he’s very convincing in the action scenes. Also, it’s great to see Tom Berenger in a major release.

I called Tom Hardy cool and that can be applied to the entire film. Hardy may be the coolest, but all of these actors are as cool as they come. They get to wear suits and shoot guns, take down a snowy compound, traverse hallways as gravity changes, etc. It’s just plain cool. For the record, the gravity stuff was my favorite.

I may be glossing over the story and focusing on the action-type elements, but that’s only because I don’t want to ruin anything. There is a compelling storyline in this film and most of the movie isn’t action-packed. The lack of action in the earlier part of the film isn’t a problem, though, because all of the actors work so well together that even if a character seems a bit underdeveloped, you will hardly notice.

I haven’t read any other reviews yet, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be alone in singing this film’s praises. Maybe I am gushing over this movie, but this film is enjoyable and entertaining on every level. One thing I saw on a preview (it was impossible to ignore them this past week) was the quote comparing this film to The Matrix. I love this movie and everything, but please ignore people/critics when they call any movie the next anything. Do not go into this movie expecting a groundbreaking action movie like The Matrix. Yes there are people acting cool and shooting guns and whatnot, but Inception is a completely different movie. And while the film handles a dream world in completely competent ways, it doesn’t feature a new style that is going to change how action movies are shot, which is what happened with The Matrix.

Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll wrap this up (though I think I could go on for at least another thousand words). Inception is cool and I suggest that everyone watch it. There’s compelling drama, great acting and action, a bit of humor, and some absolutely amazing visuals. It’s completely entertaining and I think most people will walk out of the theatre pleased with this one. I certainly did.

Random notes - I wanted to point out a few things I noticed that aren't part of a review at all.
  • First off, Cillian Murphy must be wondering what Nolan has against his face. Murphy has been in three Nolan films and in all three he has a bag placed over his head. I just found that amusing.
  • The music was loud and awesome...that is all.
  • This film looks great in IMAX.
  • I loved that the movie didn't treat the viewer like a complete idiot when it comes to locations. I recently watched a film in which Big Ben is visible in the establishing shot, yet there is still a marker that says, "London." In Inception, a character says he is going to Mombasa. next we get an establishing shot of Mombasa, but there is no marker telling us this, because the film already did. And when they are in a more famous city, Nolan leaves it to us to realize where we are. I know it's nitpicky, but the overuse of location markers bothers me.
  • I like the idea of the "totems" as a way of knowing if you're dreaming or not.
  • The subject's subconscious was pretty funny. The idea that the subconscious (i.e. all the people in the background of the dream) would get suspicious and even violent was very interesting.
  • Finally, and this is definitely a SPOILER for both Inception and Shutter Island, what is with DiCaprio playing the same role two times in a row? In both films he has a dead wife and he has issues dealing with his involvement in her death. He even dreams of her, much like he dreams of her in this film, in Shutter Island. I just couldn't ignore how similar the characters were. Nothing against DiCaprio, though. I'm certainly glad he's in both of those films, which, oddly enough, I think I would place at number 1 and 2 for the year so far, Inception being number 1.


  1. cool action movie ^^. Like this!

  2. I re-read your blog on this since I saw the movie last weekend. Hardy was my favorite character too, and 'cool' seems like the best word to describe him. Laura & I also agreed the music was fantastic.