Christopher Nolan's last film opened with a pretty, spectacular heist. This one does the same, but, instead of a bank robbery, this one is industrial espionage.
As some have already said, this is probably the most complicated and possibly most convoluted espionage plot ever. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a man who has a machine that allows him to enter people's dreams, so that he can steal secrets from them.
Many reading this may not be too familiar with Japanese anime, but there was a film called Paprika (2006) that was about a female scientist who had a machine that could also enter people's dreams. The filmmakers and animators took this opportunity to create some wildly imaginative and creative landscapes as well as some really cool fantasy sequences.
You'd then expect Nolan to be wildly imaginative too and come up with equally creative and even cooler fantasy sequences. Except, he doesn't. Nolan does come up with some inventive things, but, for the most part, a person's dream world looks and acts like the real world. Cobb knows that it's a dream and even he can do nothing special. One would assume that if you knew you were in a dream, you could do anything like fly or morph into someone else.
Actually, someone is able to do that. Cobb does an "Ocean's Eleven" and assembles a team to help him commit his dream espionage. One person that he recruits is Eames, played by Tom Hardy (Star Trek: Nemesis and Bronson). Eames has the ability to morph into different people or appear as others.
It's not really explained why Eames has this particular ability and no one else does, but I guess we're just supposed to accept it. Another recruit for Cobb's team is Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt (3rd Rock From the Sun and 500 Days of Summer). Arthur explains a lot of the rules of how dreams work and how to do these dream heists.
Arthur says and even Cobb says that it's possible to alter the physics of someone's dream. Arthur, in a fight sequence, does alter the physics, but it makes no sense why he doesn't do it more or why no one else does, especially when things get really dicey.
Cobb warns that altering the physics in someone else's dream will cause that person's subconsious to attack you. A person's subconscious can be dangerous, so Cobb's team has to be careful, but even that isn't enough to justify why these people can't or don't alter dreams to their advantage.
Ellen Page (Juno and X-Men: The Last Stand) co-stars as Ariadne, Cobb's recruit who knows the least about how the dream heists work, but she's hired to be an architect. The architect is the one who designs the location where the dream takes place. She's recommended by Cobb's father-in-law, Miles, played by Oscar-winner Michael Caine. Miles calls her his best student, but her lack of experience and need for on-the-job training should make Cobb not choose her. Yet, he does.
Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai and Letters From Iwo Jima) plays Saito, Cobb's initial target but who then becomes his employer. Saito sets into motion the movie's narrative thrust. Cobb can't return to the United States because if he does, Cobb will be arrested. Saito claims that he can drop the charges against Cobb, but only if Cobb can accomplish something known as "inception."
The possibility or impossibility of inception becomes the film's major philosophical point of debate. Inception is when you put ideas into people's head without them knowing it. Normally, Cobb steals ideas from people, not give them ones. Cobb believes that inception can affect a person's brain so much that it can drive them insane.
Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later and Batman Begins) co-stars as Robert Fischer, a man with serious daddy issues who is the mark or target of Cobb's current inception. It's Fischer's head who Cobb and his team enters. It's his mind that Saito wants changed. Along the way, Cobb and Arthur argue the difficulty and danger of this. One of those dangers is Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose and Public Enemies) who can best be described as a female Freddy Krueger. She exists only in the dream world, and she can be very scary.
However, where Nolan loses me is where he feels the need to further complicate his already complicated premise. How he does this is with his concept of a dream within a dream. Nolan creates a Russian doll of a movie. Cobb and his team can go into a person's dream and while there put that same person asleep and go into that person's dream's dream. It's described as going further into that person's subconscious, like going down an elevator toward the basement of that person's mind, but it gets very confusing.
All of that is a headache in and of itself, but the real brain-bending comes when Cobb and his team attempt to escape the dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. To escape, Cobb and his team have to find a way to wake themselves up. To do that, Cobb and his dream men develop something called a kick. A kick is the feeling of falling that almost guarantees a person will rise from the dream, as counterintuitive as that sounds. Unfortunately, getting a kick when you're in a dream within a dream within a dream can be a bit tricky.
If you can follow it, or divine the meaning of the film's final shot, you'd be a lot smarter than I. Yet, I have to praise Nolan's writing, which dares to bring a smart, sci-fi thriller to the screen, but honestly I was most impressed with Hans Zimmer's music and Lee Smith's editing. Under Nolan's direction, they create a momentum in this movie, which never waivers and never stops. The moments in this film, even when Arthur is explaining the rules of inception and dream heists, are never dull.
I never at any point felt like the action in this movie stopped or that it wasn't exciting or interesting. The film keeps you engaged from beginning to end, so much so that you don't want to get up to go to the bathroom. It truly is a rollercoaster ride that grabs you and doesn't let go. You become enthralled. In the dictionary, under "action film," there should be the title of this movie next to Christopher Nolan's face.
If you go to this film's IMDB page, you'll find a lot of names listed under the Art Department, Visual Effects and even Stunts. All of whom are very important and if you can, take the time to read their names, if for nothing else than for that hotel hallway fight scene, but I have to give a special acknowledgement to the Sound Department.
Richard King was the credited Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor. Ed Novick is the credited Sound Mixer. King won the Oscar for The Dark Knight (2008). Novick was nominated for it. Their work here was equally if not more phenomenal. There were sounds in this movie that were so distinct that I was hearing them in my dreams days later. Not that it took me out of the movie, those sounds in fact drew me into this dream world more. Kudos to them!
Four Stars out of Five Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout Running Time: 2 hrs. and 28 mins.