16 July 2010


Marion Cotillard, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio are shown in a scene from "Inception."
Where to begin when discussing "Inception," Christopher Nolan's mind-bending, jaw-dropping summer masterpiece?

To say it is the best movie so far in 2010 is inadequate.

The writer-director's finest film to date? Now we're getting somewhere.

I don't know if any review truly can do justice to the achievement of "Inception." I could describe the plot beat by beat, and it still would not accurately convey what the film is about and the experience of taking it all in on the big screen.

You've seen glimpses of the spectacle in commercials—Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page calmly walking through the streets of Paris while the city folds over on top of itself; the same two actors sitting at a cafe as their surroundings explode; a freight train barreling through a city street; a zero-gravity action sequence in a hotel hallway.

The technical virtuosity pouring from every frame is astounding.

What you haven't seen is how Nolan combines this epic scope that surpasses even "The Dark Knight" (2008) with the intricate plotting of his breakout hit "Memento" (2000) or his somewhat overlooked "The Prestige" (2006), and the emotional grounding provided by DiCaprio.

Now competing for award recognition with his own "Shutter Island" performance, DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, an "extractor" who uses military technology to enter the dreams of others to steal information for high-rolling clients. One such client, the powerful businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), hires Cobb to do the opposite—instead of stealing, he wants Cobb to plant an idea deep in the subconscious of the son (Cillian Murphy) of a dying rival (Pete Postlethwaite).

Cobb's team consists of Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his right-hand man; Eames (Tom Hardy), a sort of master of disguise; Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the chemist who will keep them sedated long enough to pull off the job; and Ariadne (Page), the architect in charge of designing the labyrinthine dream world.

Cobb likes to think he is in command, but he can't help bringing the issues of his own subconscious into the shared dream, namely his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who he quite literally cannot get out of his head.

For Cobb, it's the old stand-by: one last job. He is a fugitive in the United States, and Saito claims to have the connections to make his charges go away, allowing him to go home to his two children.

Similar themes of how we perceive our reality and identity have popped up in Nolan's previous films (most notably in the aforementioned "Memento" and "The Prestige"), but never so forcefully and in so grand a fashion. "Inception" is about ideas more than anything else, demanding a functioning brain of its audience.

Not to diminish the painstaking work done by so many gifted filmmakers over the years, but I don't know if I have ever seen another film constructed as carefully as "Inception." Time functions differently in dreams, and as we enter dreams within dreams, the plot is working simultaneously on multiple levels, yet consuming seconds on one level, minutes on another, hours on a third and so on.

Nolan has said he does most of his editing while writing (which explains the lack of deleted scenes on the DVDs of his movies), and you can feel that while watching "Inception." Every scene, every line of dialogue, every beat is essential. It feels like we would miss something important if anything were removed and, on the flip side, any additions would be extraneous.

The movie bristles with narrative momentum, flowing like a symphony. The visuals grab our attention; character, story, ideas and Nolan's mastery of his craft cast the spell that holds it. "Inception" takes place largely in the world of dreams, and no filmmaker dreams bigger.

Greg's Grade: A

(Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout. 148 minutes.)

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