Director    Christopher Nolan
Starring    Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy
Release    16 JUL (US) 16 JUL (UK)    Certificate PG
5 stars


10th July 2010

Christopher Nolan is one stealthily clever bastard. While we've all been gasping at jaw-dropping trailers and trying to glean meaning from mind-boggling posters, the actual plot for Inception has remained relatively under wraps. Oh sure, it's a heist movie involving dreams, and you could always guarantee that Nolan would deliver a hefty dose of headfuckery with this subject matter, but you can check your assumptions in at the door - this is a film that defies all your expectations except for one: it is a work of genius.

Those who have been following will already know the bare bones of the synopsis: Cobb (DiCaprio) is an information thief who is hired to illegally extract important data from people by entering their subconscious. He is, however, on the run, unable to go home to his kids. That is, until Saito (Watanabe) offers him a reprieve: enter the mind of a young, upcoming businessman (Murphy) and plant an idea rather than steal it. The job itself is precarious but in undertaking the subsequent meticulously planned mission, along with his group of trusted cohorts, it becomes clear that they are under threat of a very individual kind of sabotage.

First of all, Nolan craftily trumps anyone trying to second-guess plot twists, particularly in introducing the idea of a "dream within a dream" in the opening act - this is not about trying to predict your typical surprise ending. Nolan instead keeps his cards close to his chest and when a particularly confusing detail is explained, you can be sure that three more will pop up in its place. That is until somewhere around the halfway mark, when everything begins to fall into place and all that is left to do is keep up with the plot and enjoy the action. This, in itself, requires a certain degree of concentration as the film's major set-pieces are racked up in succession and, thanks to a neat conceit involving how fast time travels within a dream, all slowly build to a structure-defying synchronised climax.

[gallery]The most important component within the film is "the architecture of the mind" - the vague teaser that Nolan has been spouting since before the first trailer hit the internet - which had kind of lost its meaning after months of speculation. However, it's only after seeing this film that you realise how appropriate that phrase is: architecture itself is the key to Inception's premise, with the whole film plotted around the ability to construct worlds within a dream; or, as Ellen Page's Ariadne calls it, "pure creation". And Nolan doesn't give you a chance to settle within this concept: there is barely a chance to get used to the sight of buildings rising and folding, before mirrors, memories and the laws of physics all come into play too, and you had better keep up because all of the tricks of the trade are utilised come the film's climactic third act.

But with these swift explanations comes a practical approach to the dreamscape world that makes the entire sci-fi premise more relatable. You know how, in the Matrix (a film to which Inception obviously owes a huge debt), an explanation is given for phenomenon like déjà-vu? The same functionality applies here: from time-frames and the weather, to giving the dream intruders a 'kick' (a sharp sense of falling that wakes them up), the rules provided for entering a person's subconscious are so fully realised that you get the sense Nolan is the true architect here; creating a world that, despite the intricacies of the layered plot, is easily identifiable for the audience.

And that is the important objective. While we are presented with stunning visual effects and a gripping puzzle, it wouldn't amount to anything if it was not grounded in some way in reality. This is where Leo also steps in, playing his part to perfection, as a complex man, stricken with both grief and an uncanny intellect. For all talk of layers, it is his superbly subtle performance that gives the film its real depth and makes for a far more emotionally intense experience than most will be expecting.

Thankfully keeping everything else simple, the supporting cast round up the rest of the usual personality traits: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is stoically dependable as Cobb's right-hand man Arthur, Thomas Hardy gets most of the best lines as cynical Brit Eames; and Ellen Page proves her acting abilities once again as defiant new recruit Ariadne, who unfortunately provides the film with its only slight criticism - her new-to-this-stuff character is an obvious plant to help keep us up to speed, but you have to wonder why Cobb would put up with this liability on such an important mission.

Still, what Nolan achieves here is nothing short of astounding, least of all in balancing the blockbuster tropes with the more cerebral elements. There will undoubtedly be those who give up on following the brain-aching story to just watch a gun-toting siege and some incredible gravity-shifting fight sequences that are worth the five-star rating alone. Equally, though, just as in his last non-Batman film, The Prestige, there is enough narrative-bending to keep fan forums arguing for a long time.

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