Inception is all of those things and more. Christopher Nolan delivers a superb script that he's somehow managed to translate to film and added visuals that at times will bend your mind, something that the story does all on its own.
Added to the huge talent and skills of Nolan is the excellent cast he's gathered, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Pete Postlethwaite, Ellen Page, Tom Berenger, and so on. Inception is a film not to be missed.
Not so with Nolan films. Inception is a wonderful piece of film-making and scriptwriting, showing off the imagination of Nolan as well as the incredible talent he has as a film-maker, and it's a film that you have to see to believe.
The film tells the story of Cobb, the best Extractor there is and the team behind him. Extractors are skilled in the art of inducing a dream their target, creating an imaginary world in their mind, occupying that world, and using that imagination against them to find and steal their secrets. The team have been doing this for some time and for some high profile clients earning large sums of money for all involved.
The latest job has gone rather badly, and the team have failed to extract the information that their latest client required. Then the very man they were trying to extract information from offers them a job, a very different kind of job. Instead of extracting an idea from someone's mind he wants them to implant one, an act which is incredibly difficult and only been attempted by a very few people, Cobb included.
So they set about the task, gathering together the best of the best to get the job done, and preparing to go deeper into the mind than others dare to go, setting up a dream within a dream within a dream.
However there's a problem that's affecting Cobb that is starting to seep out and affect the dreams he and his team are within, endangering the jobs and the lives of those he's working with. If he can't control his own mind and his far buried secrets, what chance has he of controlling others?
From the moment the film begins it's challenging you, and that's something I love about cinema. While I like wash over you entertainment films, they aren't a patch on intelligent thrillers that have you thinking and guessing all the way to the end, and Inception does that, right to the closing second.
However don't confuse a challenging and involving script with a film that's overly complex or a plot that's too difficult to understand, Inception is so well written that you can follow it, if you pay attention, something that's often hard to do in a cinema these days, and that was certainly the case in the cinema I was watching it.
We had the usual complaints, the couple chatting about the film between them beside us (and they were well into their middle age), rustling of food wrappers throughout the film from the teenage girls to our left, and the worst of all the dozens of black moving horizontal lines on the screen that gave the impression we were watching Grindhouse. Well done Cineworld, and when myself and another gentleman complained to the manager afterwards we were told simply that he would tell the projectionist. Hopefully they fixed it in time for the next screening.
These lines continued through the film and so while we were getting to know the characters and their situations and the film was setting things up for the story, I was struggling with trying to ignore the terrible picture. However, and here's the huge credit to the film, it soon had me so engrossed that despite the desire of the terrible screen to capture my attention, the film had me totally engaged.
Within that first act of the film there is a feeling that it is racing ahead and trying hard to set-up the world and the story. You can clearly see that in some of the tightly cut sequences where events race forward avoiding unnecessary moments, ensuring that every scene you watch is relevant. I don't believe that this had any negative effect, and although it was fast and to the point, it delivered the set-up perfectly and you never felt as though you missed anything that you needed to know for the story.
It's no surprise that this first act races along considering the film is around two hours twenty minutes, and that's another strength of the film, for you never really notice the length of time - although your bum might depending on the type of seat you're on! - the film keeps you so involved that the running time isn't an issue, and indeed I think I could well have coped with an even longer running time.
The story is fantastically imagined, scripted and realised on film with some of the scenes astounding visually. The scenes in the hotel where the entire world is rotating around two men fighting in a corridor is just amazing to watch. What's particularly effective about these scenes is that nothing is overdone, and while the ideas of the film are fantastical, the characters are bound by the rules of reality, it's the environment around them that is affected by the imagination.
This stands true about the effects throughout the film, effects which are at times amazing to watch, it's how well they are integrated with the real world that makes them as believable as possible. There's a shared factor in films that deliver such spectacular but believable effects as Inception does, and that's to mix the effects with the reality of the filming and never make the effects take over the shot. You should be thinking about what you're being shown, not about the effect itself, the effect should fit perfectly with the reality of the film and in Inception it does just that.
There is one moment where I did slip out of the film and wonder how they managed the effect, and that was one of the smallest effects, the mirrored doors. That made me smile and whisper “wow” to myself, one of a few “wow”'s that escaped my mouth during the showing. Others were for the bending of the city, the city falling into the sea, and the corridor fights.
None of these effects look like CG, and at no point, apart from marvelling at the mirrored doors, was I looking at the effect and not the film.
I had heard some people describe some of the film and effects as Matrix-esque, and that concerned me, for there everything is unreal, everything is in the imagination, and that's obvious from every shot, from the people and their clothes to the cars and the buildings. However rather than create an unreal world of dreams, Nolan has created a real world and applied the dreams to it, and the outcome is very different to Matrix.
Personally I hate film comparisons and you should stay clear of them as much as possible. Comparing one film as a whole to another is impossible and pointless. Each film is its own, except for remakes of course!
It's the fact that the characters and story are kept in reality that allows the plot and the thriller to be at the fore, rather than drowned out in a sea of special effects and science fiction.
This is very similar to what I said about The Dark Knight (Filmstalker review), it's a thriller first and foremost, and a superhero film second, and that's why it succeeded so well, and with Inception the same rules apply.
The twists and turns in the story are very well thought out, and without going too far into flattery, they really are almost genius. When you sit back and think about the relationship with Mal, and the impact and effect that has, through to the intimate reveals of the characters that are both shocking and rewarding, you do marvel at the complexity of the story and how wonderfully this huge plot thread has been woven into the rest of the film.
The three tiered countdown section of the film is another stroke of mastery, and while I don't think the film nailed this perfectly, it was utterly engaging to watch and continually built the tension with the audience.
The final scenes, and indeed the final shot itself, deliver the biggest moments of the film and with that final moment Nolan delivers a master class in exactly where to cut.
Something else that these final scenes show is that films don't have to have an unseen, make or break twist. I have to admit that I had inklings of a moment earlier on in the film that carried through to the later stages, but it never affected my enjoyment of the film.
After the lights came on, and even a day after, I'm still thinking about that ending, and ending that made several members of the audience laugh in a nervous, surprised way, definitely a sign of appreciation.
Leonardo DiCaprio just seems to get better and better with every film he makes these days, and his performance in Inception is compelling and believable, he draws you in and seems to carry an inner turmoil and strength really well. It would be difficult to find an actor who could pull off a complex character and performance such as this, and DiCaprio is an excellent choice.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also very good, as were all the cast, although he and Tom Hardy stood out the most for me in the supporting roles. It was a surprise to see Tom Berenger, but a welcome one. In fact there's a great mix of actors in there, from Ken Watanabe to Ellen Page, and Gordon-Levitt to Hardy, all giving strong performances and keeping you engaged and never seeming to miss a beat.
It's Marion Cotillard though that stands out the most alongside DiCaprio, as her performance seems to turn on a pin so easily. One moment you can see the hate and vicious anger in her eyes, and the other you see love, heartache and anguish, and when she's on screen you just believe her performance without question.
One last thing to mention is the superb soundtrack and sound effects through the film, while the gentleman who was complaining about the screening of Inception with me said the sound was terrible – he was a sound engineer by trade – I still thought the audio was really strong and the use of music very well thought out. That booming theme heard through the trailers is put to great use and really does heighten the tension, especially during the final sequences.
There's a really nice choice of music that relates beautifully to Cotillard, I'm sure this was intentional, just listen for it when it comes.
Inception is a superbly crafted thriller which concentrates on characters and story and uses all the elements of film-making around it to build an amazing film and cinematic experience.
I've never felt so manipulated and provoked by a film for a very long time, in fact I'm struggling to remember exactly when I last felt this taken in by a film, for even a day after seeing it I'm still thinking of that ending and some of the turns in the story. In fact I'm really keen to go back and watch it again and see how it feels on a second viewing. That's something that doesn't happen with me very often.
I can't praise Christopher Nolan enough for this film from the idea, scripting, casting, styling, cinematography, effects, etc., and while I could say that it did feel a little harshly edited in the first act, and the multi-tiered crescendo doesn't quite fit together perfectly, these things would be picking very small points out of a film that is superb as a whole.
A clever, wonderfully imagined script that combines multiple complex ideas and threads together in one compelling and thought provoking story, building layer upon layer and never relying on the obvious, delivering with a multi-layered crescendo of an ending that comes crashing around you time and time again, to a final shot that surprises right to the point the screen goes dark, Inception is an amazing film.