Over the past decade Christopher Nolan has continually established himself as one of the definitive storytellers of our generation. Through Memento he crafted an unforgettable thriller of ingenious narrative. In his two "Batman" films he redefined the superhero genre by bringing a character often regarded as a comic book figure into the real world. Now with his eagerly awaited Inception, a passion project he has been envisioning for years, Nolan delivers nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece.
This is a film that works on every conceivable level. As a science-fiction thriller it earns comparison to the most accomplished works of Spielberg and Kubrick. As a mystery it will both fascinate and frustrate you from beginning to end. As a heist movie it will thrill you unlike any other entertainment currently occupying theaters. In a clutter of uninspired sequels and action pictures that appeal to the lowest common denominator, Inception is one of the year's most unique and brilliant films.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a thief who specials in the theft of knowledge through other people's dreams known as extraction. A businessman named Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, approaches Cobb and his partner Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He asks them to do an inception, the insertion of an idea into another person's mind. The mind to be infiltrated is Robert Fischer's, played by Cillian Murphy, who has inherited his late father's company that rivals Saito's. Through the inception Saito desires to run Fischer's empire into the ground.
Between his performance as a federal marshal on the verge of madness in Shutter Island and now his gripping work in Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio is a shoo-in for another Academy Award nomination next January. Like his character in Shutter Island, Cobb is haunted by the choices he's made concerning his ex-wife, beautifully played by the luminous Marion Cotillard. Another pivotal performance comes from Ellen Page as a student named Ariadne, who Cobb hires as an architect to create a dreamland. In the process Ariadne digs deep into Cobb's tormented past and begins to fear that this man is not only going to endanger himself but everyone on the mission.
Visually Inception is as outstanding as any film I've seen in recent memory, maybe even more so than Tim Burton's gorgeous Alice in Wonderland. Although visual effects have gotten to the point where anything is possible, I still often feel conscious that I'm watching a special effect in a majority of modern blockbusters. The effects in Inception, however, are seamless. When Ariadne bends the streets of Paris with her mind or when Arthur floats through a tilted hotel lobby free of gravity, you're convinced that these CGI effects are real. This is not a meaningless execution of technology like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Last Airbender or Terminator: Salvation in which objects senselessly explode. The effects here are intelligently and carefully put to use to imagine a series of images that could only exist in a dream. Cinematographer Wally Pfister photographs some of the most extraordinary and impossible shots I've seen this century. If Pfister doesn't win his first Oscar for Inception I don't know what will.
While the look of the film is spectacular, Inception is really driven by its complex ideas and plot. Even with the full capacity of your brain you're bound to walk out of the film scratching your head. The final shot in particular will leave audiences more baffled than the conclusion of Lost. The meaning behind the ending of Inception is one that will be debated and analyzed for years. Although many will be dissatisfied with the way Nolan chooses to close the film, the ending is not just a middle finger to the audience like in The Matrix Revolutions. It's actually a fitting way to end a nonconventional film.
Maybe Nolan himself doesn't entirely know what the ending means. Perhaps it's up to each individual audience member to decipher his or her own perspective of the ending. The finish and the entirety of Inception will inspire numerous heated discussions, which is a rarity in films nowadays. If you go to movies just for mindless amusement to kill two hours every week, this will not be your cup of tea. Anyone who really appreciates the art of film though will be aghast by the sheer genius of Inception.
Is Inception the best movie of Nolan's career? That's hard to say based on only one viewing. To wholly appreciate any of Nolan's pictures you have to observe them at least twice. Many felt Nolan's Dark Knight not only should have earned a "Best Picture" nomination but directing and screenwriting recognition as well. Don't be surprised if Nolan finally gets his due for Inception, a revelation of contemporary filmmaking.