4.5 stars (PG-13)
I saw Inception last night and the prospect of writing about it with so little time to process what I'd seen was daunting. Luckily, my pal David Lichty was able to attend the screening and we got to talk the movie over a bit afterwards. Thanks, David, for sorting things out with me.
Inception is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought us The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Insomnia and Memento. Expectations have been very high for the production. It delivers, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. My plan is to tell you about the plot in as few words as possible, give you a sense of what kind of experience you're in for and throw in a bit of commentary along the way.
First the plot: The film deals with a new kind of corporate espionage, where a criminal team enters the dreams of the victim and steals ideas. The challenge is to try something far more difficult and dangerous - enter someone's dreams to plant an idea.
Remember Mission: Impossible? Not the movie franchise, but the original TV series. Inception is formatted like an episode of the series. First the playing field is laid out and the goal established. Then the team is assembled, everyone learns their part in the big picture and the group goes into action. The fun of the show came from being privy to the team's complicated plans and seeing how the schemes worked out - watching the machine work. And one of the main reasons the show was fun was because the characters took the outlandish situations dead seriously. Inception is deadly serious. The fantastic landscapes are presented in a realistic fashion, as are the dreams, full of abrupt shifts of locations and individuals that seems perfectly normal when you're the one doing the dreaming.
The impressive cast of Inception includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas. Wow. None of them are given a chance to show their range - the movie is about a situation and a team. The Mission: Impossible series featured a familiar cast that you knew and believed in. Inception captures that feeling by presenting a group of actors well-known and respected by film fans. They wear their authenticity on the faces. You accept them as parts of an elaborate process. They don't need to have scenes where they display their range as actors because you already know them and what they can do.
Christopher Nolan rolls out his story assuming you'll be able to keep up enough to enjoy the experience. The film starts slowly - be patient - then turns into the surreal crime of the century, with images to dazzle your eyes and concepts to make your brain ache, all amplified by Hans Zimmer's take-no-prisoners score. Problem areas? Nolan is great at rolling out a story and, of course, wonderful at overwhelming his viewers with spectacle. When it comes to action scenes, however, he too often uses quick cuts to create a sense of movement without providing clear images that you can track. He's getting better, but still hasn't reached the point where the fight scenes are as satisfying as everything else. And there's an awkward moment in which a smart character reveals information to the last person on earth who should hear it, right after telling him how dangerous it would be to do so. Sheesh. But enough griping. I'm looking forward to seeing Inception again, but as dizzying as it is, the first go-round was pretty damn satisfying.