★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG13/147 min.
The “look” of dreams is something most movies can’t pull off without resorting to silly touches like fuzzy photography and dancing dwarves. The list of films that convey the visual and logistical nature of dreams with any accuracy is short: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Waking Life and the original Nightmare on Elm St. come to mind. Add Inception, the new thriller from director Christopher Nolan. This is a film so entertaining and rich with imagination, the hefty running time didn’t seem overlong; actually, I felt like I sat through two really terrific movies.
The story and the rules of the world within are meant to be discovered by the viewer as they unfold, so I’ll reveal as little as possible. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the leader of a team that commits corporate espionage in the dream world. The way this works is played out in a dizzying opening scene, followed by intriguing explanations that offer ideas both simplistic and incredibly dense about how the mind works while we’re dreaming.
A concept I loved in both the original and remake of Solaris resurfaces here: what if a version of someone you love can materialize, only it’s the way you remember the person, warts and all, and not a truthful representation, since your perspective clouds the whole picture? Marion Cotillard portrays the character in question and gives the film’s most chilling performance. DiCaprio’s character is haunted by the memory of his femme fatale wife; it’s a similar role to the one he just played in Shutter Island and, while
a solid performance, it’s not one of his richest. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays one of DiCaprio’s side men and has what will likely go down as among the best movie fight scenes of this or any year.
The film will inevitably be compared to Nolan’s The Dark Knight. There are no performances that stand out the way Heath Ledger’s Joker did. Instead, Inception is an ensemble piece without a single bad performance and the story and characters are more focused than either of the Nolan Batman films. There are plot elements that will be familiar to fans of Nolan’s other work: Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige, which, come to think of it, all deal with the nature of sleep and alternate realities.
Naysayers will complain that the film is too long, too talky and too confusing. The truth is that I can’t even tell you if there are plot holes because each scene is so layered with detail, there may be story flaws that I missed. Frankly, I could care less: when a film is this wonderful the first time, I’m more than happy to go back again and again to parse the details. Two weeks ago, I complained that so little effort and passion had gone into the latest Twilight installment. Here is the opposite: a film packed with more smarts, surprises and awe-inspiring moments than ten run-of-the-mill summer blockbusters combined. Barry Wurst II