INCEPTION - 5 stars
Let me begin by telling you a story.
Someone tried to kill me once. I couldn't see their face as it was covered by a mask but they were drowning me. My head kept going under the water and the more I struggled, the more water filled my lungs. As I made one last attempt to get to the surface I woke up. It had been a dream. Still freaked out by it, I got up and wandered into the kitchen where my parents where having breakfast. As I explained the dream to them my nose started to bleed. I realised that something was wrong. Not the nose bleed but I remembered that I don't live with my parents anymore. I was still dreaming. Once that realisation happened I managed to wake myself up again.
Now you might feel that this amusing dream anecdote might be rather unnecessary, but if you can understand the logic or have had a similar experience then you should be able to follow the complex plot and logic of Inception.
After years of churning out endless sequels, remakes and films based on TV shows, comics, books, etc, Hollywood has finally delivered a truly original movie that fulfills all the needs of a summer blockbuster but with a story that is grown up, complicated, makes the audience think and doesn't pander to the lowest common demoninator (i.e. the kind of people who watch Epic Movie).
Leonardo DiCaprio plays an Extractor, who enters your mind through your dreams in order to steal information. He takes on one last job that will allow him to return home to his family, but this time he must plant, rather than steal, an idea in someone's head and assembles a team to get the job done which will involve entering a world of dreams within dreams within dreams.
That is all you are going to get from me in terms of plot, as Inception is best enjoyed by not having too much information spoiled ahead of time. There is exposition along the way but the film doesn't get bogged down in it so it is relatively easy to follow, but pray you don't go along with one of those people who constantly ask questions during the film: "who is he?", "why are they doing that?", etc, etc.
The most complicated thing about Inception is not the plot, but writing a review that doesn't stray too heavily into spoiler territory.
Similar to the way that Ariadne aka The Architect must construct their dream world, writer/Director Christopher Nolan can be considered the Architect of this film. And in Inception, he has designed a masterpiece. He combines the action of The Dark Knight, the theatricality of The Prestige with a tightly constructed story that revisits themes first explored in his breakout film Memento.
Nolan has risen to a level reserved for the truly great filmmakers where you can tell just by looking at a film that it is directed by him. He is helped by having built up a strong working relationship with director of photography Wally Pfister and music legend Hans Zimmer. The visual aesthetic and score are very similar to The Dark Knight (which is a good thing in my opinion, not a negative as some critics have said).
It is the best looking film of the year and beyond the stunning visuals, Pfister produces a different colour pallete for each dream world which makes it easier to keep track of the action.
Zimmer has written a score that is possibly even better than that of The Dark Knight, hitting all the right notes on the action sequences and delivering the right impact of emotion in the key scenes. The decision to use Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien as the song to trigger the 'kick' in order to wake from the dream is an odd one purely for the fact that Marion Cotillard is part of the cast and famously won an Oscar playing Edith Piaf, so it almost takes the audience out of the moment because of the connection.
Nolan also knows when and where to use CGI. Many blockbusters have become over-reliant on CGI effects but Nolan only uses it to enchance the real-life action (the fight scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and two henchmen in a rotating hotel corridor was all filmed in camera) or to achieve the impossible such as the moving Parisian landscapes.
Once the dream world has been constructed, the Dreamer fills it with projections (or people) and in Nolan's case he has assembled one hell of an ensemble cast for this. It might not be as glitzy and glamourous as Ocean's Eleven, but alongside DiCaprio (who follows up Shutter Island with another excellent turn that proves he keeps getting better and better as he gets older) he is backed up by Nolan veterans Watanabe, Murphy and Caine, Oscar beauties Cotillard and Page and two breakout performances from rising stars Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy.
Finally there are the dreams themselves. Nolan seems to be very interested in the world of the mind and memory and uses the medium of cinema to explore these to their full potential in thematic terms and delivering excitement and drama. In one clever sequence Cobb and Ariadne are talking about dreams at a cafe and Cobb explains that we never remember the start of a dream and we usually find ourselves in the middle of one, and asks Ariadne how they got to the cafe? Nolan has used the traditional cinematic cut to float between reality and the dream world.
There would always be a worry with this type of film that it will end with one of those cheesy "They wake up and it was all a dream" moments but I guarantee that the ending delivers so much more.
"What is the most resiliant parasite? An idea. Once an idea is implanted in the brain it is next to impossible to get rid of it"
And that is the true power of Inception. Once you have seen it, it will be impossible to forget. You are guaranteed to be thinking about it and talking about it for weeks. And that is the mark of a exceptional film.