Friday 16 July 2010

Inception review

Inception (12A, 148 mins)
Director: Christopher Nolan

OK, this is it. This is the big one. A summer blockbuster season that has so far been curtailed by a lack of releases, the World Cup and downright mediocre product explodes into life with Inception, probably the most anticipated cinema release of the year so far. Early reviews have suggested it’s also the best, and that’s probably true, at least until the arrival of Toy Story 3 next week.

On paper it has everything going for it: a director in Chris Nolan coming off The Dark Knight, the most critically acclaimed and financially successful summer blockbuster of all time and a star in Leonardo DiCaprio who is able to front mega-budget projects like this but is also a genuinely talented actor in his own right.

Most intriguingly, it has a truly original concept that looked, from the trailer anyway, like nothing we’d ever seen before, even if it offered no real idea what it was actually about. Even after a first viewing all may not become clear and this is a film that demands a second visit, such is its depth, complexity and intelligence, all of it taking place in dreams within dreams within dreams.

It’s in the world of dreams that DiCaprio’s Cobb operates, as an extractor who can invade someone’s subconscious to find sensitive information, often for corporate espionage purposes. He’s hired for what is called an inception – implanting an idea into someone’s head without them knowing it, specifically Cillian Murphy being persuaded by a rival business magnate to break up his father’s company after his death.

So, with a hint of Mission: Impossible about it, Cobb assembles his team that will enter Murphy’s mind and sow the seed of the idea. They have only the length of a flight to do it, but the conceptual rules of the dream world mean that time is extended the further down you go, so a few minutes in the real world could feel like months in the dream.

Inception is a wildly inventive blend of ideas and action, building in intensity and excitement as layers are added. It’s all insanely complicated, but with a little concentration you’ll be able to follow the bigger picture as long as you don’t spend too much time trying to process the specifics.

The main action takes place in anything up to four levels of dream, but each layer is well defined and refreshingly there’s never any attempt to hoodwink the audience with ‘it was all a dream’ theatrics like many a lesser filmmaker than Nolan might.

The concept is intriguing enough, but Nolan dresses it up by spending hundreds of millions on mind-blowing sequences of zero gravity combat or a Paris city block folding over on itself, that are all the more impressive for never looking like special effects.

It all makes for that rare blockbuster that doesn’t sacrifice story for spectacle, so while said spectacle is astonishing, the journey of DiCaprio’s character is the film’s main focus. The mission to plant the idea in Murphy runs in tandem with a major subplot where Cobb can’t forget his late wife (Marion Cotillard). Her frequent appearances in his subconscious threaten to jeopardise the mission and add further levels of emotion and poignancy, almost as rare as intelligence in summer blockbusters.

Nolan has been able to assemble an exceptional cast around DiCaprio to play his team of infiltrators, including Ellen Page as the architect of the dreamscapes, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy as the muscle and Nolan old-hands like Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine.

But we shouldn’t forget the contributions of DiCaprio and Cotillard, who provide the heart and soul of Inception, all the way to a thematically perfect ending for a sensationally entertaining movie experience.

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