Reeling It In: 'Inception' has plenty to think about

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010


Ap Photo/Warner Bros.
Ap Photo/Warner Bros.
In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros., Leonardo DiCaprio, left, is shown during a scene from "Inception."

Warner Bros. Pictures

2 hours, 28 minutes

I have the same conversation with my father just about once a week. He asks me what's new at the movies and I list out what's playing. He asks if he'd like any of the selections, and I try to find something good about at least one of them in the meager hopes of getting him out of the house and in to a theater.

"Hmmmm. I don't know ... I might have to wait and see it on the Netflix. Say! We're right in the middle of this show called 'The Wire!' Ever hear of it?"

This is his inevitable response, the only change being the gritty made-for-cable series of the moment. This week, when the question came up, I tried in vain to interest him in the twisty new thriller "Inception," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Christopher Nolan, the guy who brought us "The Dark Knight." After describing the plot, involving high stakes corporate espionage that just happens to take place within the dreaming mind of the victim, his reaction was more vehement.

"You know, sometimes I think all they do over there in Hollywood is sit around and try to come up with the weirdest, most complicated plot they can think of, just to satisfy their own creative egos!

Why don't they ever ask some farmer in Nebraska what he wants to see? Or me?! Say! We're right in the middle of this lawyer show called 'Damages!" Ever hear of it?"

So, maybe "Inception" isn't for everyone.

I, on the other hand, was enthralled. Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb -- an extractor, which is just a fancy way of saying thief. What he steals, however, is more esoteric than simply tangible wealth. Cobb steals secrets -- important secrets, the kind you wouldn't even tell your best friend or business partners. And he does it by breaking into your mind.

At some unspecified point in the past, we are told, the army came up with a technology which allowed people to share a dream state.

Eventually, multiple people could share the same dream at once, and naturally, someone found a way to make a profit on it.

Cobb is the front man, but even the most talented thief needs a team for jobs as big as the heists he pulls. "Juno's" Ellen Page is the architect, who designs the world of the dream, often in such a way as to trap or disorient the mark. Joseph Gordon Levitt is the operations guy, providing intel and firepower, when needed.

There're others, too. A chemist, a forger, the financier, and everything runs like clockwork, except when it doesn't. Turns out Cobb has a secret of his own, and much as he wants to lock it away, his past keeps showing up at the most inopportune moments.

Now it's time for one last job -- an incredibly difficult operation, paid for by a shady Japanese industrialist, played by Ken Watanabe. Instead of stealing his competitor's ideas, Mr. Saito wants Cobb to insert one: Inception, the tricky art of getting someone to act on a thought, deftly placed deep in their subconscious. What follows is a tense thriller as Cobb and Co. plunge down into the psyche of their mark, following dream into dreams within dreams, praying they don't get lost forever within the labyrinth of the mind.

"Inception" is one of those rare big-budget summer movies, packed with talented people, that doesn't collapse under the weight of its own potential. In fact, this film could easily have been a fall release, with an assured Oscar nomination. That's because it has substance -- real ideas with something real to say. The performances are all right on the mark, with DiCaprio performing brilliantly as usual.

But credit writer/director Nolan for giving his ensemble cast truly meaty roles. I was especially impressed with Ellen Page, who seems to have left her snarkiness behind, and Levitt who made me completely forget that he was once the kid on "3rd Rock from the Sun."

Also noteworthy is Tom Hardy, as Eames, the forger. Little known to Americans, Hardy is on his way to superstardom, taking on the role of Mad Max in the upcoming "Road Warrior" sequel.

For an effects-film about the world of dreams, you might imagine "Inception" would be filled top to bottom with eye-popping CGI, but Nolan makes the wise decision to limit such effects, preferring to use practical filmmaking techniques to portray the landscape of the subconscious. What effects there are, however, have the weight and scale you'd hope for, including the impressive sequence hinted at in previews where the entire city folds in on itself. That scale is echoed by the music, a dark and brooding score that is becoming a Nolan signature. The deep bass tones reverberate through the theater and almost give the film a feeling of sensurround.

Unfortunately for me, though I was impressed with the music, it didn't help me during the last half-hour of the film, where I found myself fighting a killer headache. I'm certain it had nothing to do with the movie, but it left me scrambling to keep track of the action, which, admittedly, does get pretty complicated and difficult to follow as the movie tumbles toward its climax. Nolan, who wants deep emotional resolutions as well as gripping action, tends to leave his audience behind at times, with his complex plot structures.

The ultimate idea at work here is pretty simple, but the road the director takes us on is winding indeed. Luckily, the destination is worth the trip.

Grade: A-

"Inception" is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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