Just so you know from which angle I'm coming from, I have enjoyed every single Christopher Nolan feature film from his debut Following to his interpretation of one of pop culture's most enduring comic book heroes Batman. At ease with telling smaller stories on modest budgets to delivering the big budgeted summer blockbusters, in my opinion he ranks way up there as a truly genius storyteller who's able to forge that connection with an audience, eliciting patience as he conjures up a spectacle that leaves you breathless. And bless him too for not buckling to pressure to hope on the unnecessary 3D wagon, believing instead that the key to success lies in crafting a solid story.
If you're of the opinion that this summer's blockbuster slate is somewhat lacklustre, then Inception will likely change your mind. It contains every ingredient necessary to thrill and deliver that cinematic experience and spectacle that cinema was meant for, with an amazingly stellar cast that Nolan draws out fine performances from, coupled with visuals that titillate the mind. The teaser trailer had let on a little on that topsy-turvy tumbling corridor fight scene, but watching that episode in its entirety with fluidity in motion, will cement this film's iconic status just as how Bullet Time did the same for the Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix.
Action aside, there will be some who will liken this to the Matrix, given its similarities in combining science fiction with philosophical existentialism issues, with cutting-edge action seemingly beyond its time. Nolan goes one up however, with this attempt as he, like Neo, goes beyong the computerized world of the Matrix, where it's still a construct led by binary ones and zeroes, good and evil battling it out under black and white rules. Rules that one cannot escape from since they are what binds our universe together. Here Nolan goes into that untapped power of the mind, the dream worlds that we create in our subconscious, where the dreamer has everything in his subtle control, where anything goes as far as the imagination dare venture beyond physical limitations and rules.
This allowed for such a film to be created from a simple idea with a bank heist premise having its skill-based assembled team break into unsuspecting victims to steal ideas locked away in the mind. Nolan loves to tease and test the audience, not lulling us into complacency, with Inception beginning in the thick of the action with tremendous questions being asked as we try and digest the multitude of information thrown at us, with the whys and the what ifs answered in due course, needing to pay attention to subtle details, ideas and concepts to make the film work.
We follow Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his lieutenant Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as information hackers and social engineers of the new age, offering their services as the black and white ops type either to teach corporate honchos how to defend against like-minded and skilled peers, or to be engaged by these same industrialists to steal information from the competition. With the promise of being able to return to the USA without being arrested at immigration, Cobb accepts the challenge posed by the Japanese Saito (Ken Watanabe), to assemble an A-Team to plant a seed of thought and an idea, known as an inception, into his business enemy Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy). It's an almost impossible task, but the promise to see his kids again makes Cobb recruit the likes of Ariadne the architect (Ellen Page), Yusuf the chemist (Dileep Rao), and Eames (Tom Hardy) the expert identity thief.
Like the layers that the characters navigate through, the film is equally layered with engaging subplots that expand the depth and breadth of the characters involved, the largest one involving the mystery behind the disappearance of Cobb's wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) who now lives only in Cobb's subconscious, and always find a way to thwart his grand plans, making Cobb more of a liability with this unspoken handicap that gets worse as the challenges facing the team grows. The story unfolds like a planning of that perennial big bank heist job, with conflicts between members, the building of skills and the meticulous planning all coming together with so many external variables, that seeks to test the skills of every member to the extreme. And that's what makes the film so brilliantly engaging, while dealing with emotions and romance, obssession and selfishness, which if I may jest, seem to reflect a side of modern day relationships where sometimes one can get tired and need to seek an exit from constantly being with someone else, 24 hours a day, with nobody around.
DiCaprio with his name sprawled over the poster above the other cast, delivers that pitch perfect flawed lead character that Nolan has a knack to create, and brought to life by DiCaprio's performance, having the actor showcase a wide range of emotions as a man desperate to hold onto what he deems dear, with hidden secrets so jealously guarded, living and repeating his pain through the constant re-visits to his memory, breaking all rules of the game as told to his protege Ariadne. Ellen Page holds her own against the seasoned thespian in two scenes which is bound to generate some gasps for the special effects generated as she picks up the necessary skills for the job, in what would be a Neo-like discovery of how seductive a limitless world could be.
I can't rave enough of how Nolan got to elicit wonderful performances from his cast of stars, where little nuances can mean so much, without even saying a word. A flick of the eyebrow, a glance at someone, paint that picture to tell a thousand words. Better yet, Nolan's own ability to hold your attention with his storytelling ability and delivering no less than four stunningly created realms all happening simultaneously, each with another as a constraint or a condition to kickstart a chain of events. You're always left guessing whether the team can accomplish their mission, and there's always that constant threat of danger that seeks to derail everything they thought of in their combined state of comatose, What George Lucas does with those simultaneous theatres of war in the finale of each of his Star Wars films, Nolan does it better with just this one, as he puts that grip around you as we flit from one stage to another. There's absolutely nothing quite like the experience of having seen something great, and want to savour it all over again soon.
Inception is best experienced on the big screen, and Christopher Nolan has done the ultimate in performing just what the characters of Inception had set out to do, sowing the seed of a premise and concept that holds so much promise, then delivering that promise with aplomb, so much so that you'll want to continue living in that world created by the cognitive senses interpreting what's on screen, then fantasizing on it a lot more with the subconscious. Inception is definitely one of the best this year, if not THE best film of 2010 thus far. Don't miss this film!