Warner Bros. // 2010 // 148 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // December 20th, 2010
"You remind me of someone...a man I met in a half-remembered dream."
It might be possible to watch Inception and not think about it. To just soak in the spinning hallway fight scene, or smile at how that "level 3" snow fort feels like a N64 Goldeneye level...but I think you'd be hard pressed to do so. Its existence feels like a paradox: an original, explosive, thinking-man's blockbuster that begs to be analyzed. Ad nauseam.
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island) is a dream thief. He and his skilled team of sleepers have become professional idea robbers, breaking into the minds of industry leaders and stealing their secrets. Cobb and his longtime sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick) are good at what they do, which is why they're hired by a mysterious energy magnate, Saito (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai), for what could be their final mission. They have to perform "inception," and plant an idea in the head of a president for a rival energy company.
Inception is dangerous work, so Cobb assembles the best team he can: Arthur, his second-in-command; Ariadne (Ellen Page, Juno), the dream architect; Eames (Tom Hardy, Layer Cake) the forger; and Yusuf (Dileep Rao, Avatar), the chemist.
Inception is like a fancy episode of Mission: Impossible: Cobb, like Jim Phelps, is a serious man capable of crafting elaborate plans to get the job done; he's got a team of experts at his side with individual talents suited for just that special moment; he's got a mission and (under vague circumstances involving extradition) he chooses to accept it. This is, first and foremost, why the movie is initially appealing. It's a heist movie. And a men-on-a-mission movie. And kind of a Bond movie. And sort of like Flatliners -- but not so much that it's bothersome.
Nolan wisely keeps things moving -- Inception is a two-and-a-half hour movie that never stops to breath. The film's opening set piece in a Japanese castle is thrilling enough, but the events that follow escalate exponentially. Even the film's necessary, but longwinded, training scenes with Page up the ante with spectacular effects shots. This thundering pace is important because it takes all the attention away from the dull dialogue. I estimate about 85 percent of the script is, in some manner, exposition, and it's painful to think about. It's a credit to Nolan, who is presenting a fresh idea in a non-linear fashion, that you hardly care or notice while the film is running. I accept that people can break into my dreams and steal my ideas. I'm okay with two generic energy conglomerates duking it out with rapid eye movement. For all of the explaining in the film, everyone accepts the reality and treats it with the utmost seriousness.
Nolan's story is made manageable by a solid cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt steals the show with his stoic manliness and occasional one-liners. Ellen Page has the unpleasant roll of being the newbie in the group, so much of her talent is spent asking questions. The rest of the crew, including Hardy, Watanabe, Rao, Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight) are all great additions to the film's puzzling milieu. The only debatable performance is DiCaprio's. He plays Cobb with dry reservation, occasionally turning on some emotion when Mal, his dead wife (the fantastic Marion Cotillard, Big Fish), interjects in the mission. Despite those moments, DiCaprio doesn't feel emotionally present -- although you could argue, through different interpretations of the film, that this is intentional. At least he's not speaking in a Boston accent this time.
For all of its straightforward action (which I'll get to), Inception is at its core about the power of dreams. How can dreams seemingly last days when we've only been asleep a few hours? Why do our dreams feel so familiar to us even though the locations in them are often non-specific? Why don't our dreams ever have beginnings? Nolan explores all of this, along with more basic sleep phenomena, and in turn causes us to question everything about the movie. Repeated viewings will have you rethinking things or getting more creative in your assessment. This isn't just one of the most intellectually engrossing movies of the year, it's also one of the highest grossing. How the heck did that happen?
Part of Inception's success is certainly due to Christopher Nolan's chops as an action director. Not all of his films have explosions and gunfights, but when they do, they're guided by his calm, naturalistic hand. Most of the effects and stunts in the movie are done practically, including Gordon-Levitt's jaw-dropping hallway fight and that giant train that tears up a street. His fights aren't edited like music videos, they breathe with confidence in their wide angles and deliberate cuts. The film's undeniable awesomeness really shows up once the layered final mission begins, as each stage in the inception takes on its own visual style, speed, and setting; the art direction and production design is both masterful and pragmatic.
Warner Bros. realizes how good this film looks and they've turned out a pristine looking transfer for the standard definition DVD release. The picture is bright and sharp, and the Dolby Digital audio is as loud as can be: which is a mega-bonus considering how iconic Hans Zimmer's score is for the film. But Warner Bros. also realizes that this movie is going to be a big seller for a while, so they've held back on the special features for what I can only assume will be a double-dip at a later date (or just a push for you to get the Blu-Ray version). There are four featurettes, each exploring the effects and creation of the film, and each with a title that takes about as long to say as the video's runtime. All four of them total about 13 minutes. That's not enough stuff for one of the best films of the year.
Inception begs to be debated over coffee or beer or whatever it is you imbibe. Where does the film's dream world begin and end? Are all of these characters real? Since when did that kid from Third Rock from the Sun become such a definitive badass?
Inception is one of the best films of the year, whether you want to think about it or not.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13