One of my personal problems with Facebook is that I have a lot of other reviewers as friends, meaning that when they see a movie long before its release, they often can't help but make their opinion known. One such friend, Ali Catterall, wrote of Inception: "It. Is. Awful. (I will, of course, be one of perhaps three critics offering this verdict. The rest of the lazy sheep can bleat all they like about its perceived triumphs." And as I normally find myself agreeing with him - most recently about the rubbish-ness of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland for example - I was readied to not like Christopher Nolan's follow-up to 2008's smash hit, The Dark Knight.
Sometimes when everyone says a movie is good, it's because it actually is, but experience tells us that blockbusters are rarely as exciting as their trailers suggest. The cause-effect graph states the more money spent, the more rubbish the story will be. Summer blockbusters also set a particular challenge for the reviewer, as essentially no one cares whether you like them or not, most will go regardless - unlike with a small independent film that you can potentially introduce to vast numbers, it would otherwise pass by.
Inception is not a movie you can evaluate upon walking out of the theater, but one that settles slowly. What Inception does immediately provide, however, is a heady, mind-stretching feeling that can come when woken from a deep and dream-filled sleep. Once the mist has cleared, scenes come to mind and merge - so effective is Nolan's creation of the world of a group of thieves-for-hire who extract ideas and secrets from the mind's of dreaming people at the order of corporate powers.
Most of the film unfolds in a series of dreamscapes and corresponds to the dream experience, dumping the audience in the middle of the story at the start, defying time, gravity and the conventions of the genres it skillfully upends. This is action, heist, romance and science fiction all rolled into one, but also something quite rare in cinema today - it's original. It's interesting to think that Nolan had to reboot Batman before he could go ahead on a script he started while making Memento ten years ago.
It is fast paced, full of chases and races and escapes, all held together by a well-crafted idea. Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are asked to place an idea in the head of the heir to a business empire, an inception, as opposed to an extraction. They take on Ellen Page as a dreamscape architect and Tom Hardy as a forger. They must first find the man, put him to sleep, share his dream and then enter his subconscious where they can plant a thought and let it grow. Nolan creates layers of aesthetically contrasting worlds, from an upscale hotel to an Arctic landscape for the group to navigate. There's the rush of the action, matched by the intrigue of the plot. And then Nolan manages to include a truly affecting emotional core centered on the origins of DiCaprio's characters talent.
There are just two points of concern and one of which could actually be a boon. Marion Cotillard previously starred as Edif Piaf in La Vie En Rose, for which she won an Academy Award. In this she sings, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" a track used repeatedly in Inception. It's used to countdown the group's exit from a dream. For anyone aware of this correlation, the song yanks one out of the world of the film and back into reality. This may have been a deliberate choice by Nolan, who thought it cunning to "awaken" the audience at the same time as the characters to the unreality of what they are seeing. Or it's a nudge-nudge, in-joke as Nolan figured that very few people in his Inception audience would have seen the French biopic.
The other point is that DiCaprio's own tale is very reminiscent of Shutter Island, one of his most recent films The relationship between him and his wife and children is central, and thematically similar in a number of ways. I didn't like Shutter Island at all, but now I wish it plain didn't exist as it detracted from my enjoyment of Inception.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page