Inception (2010)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 7/16/10
Director: Christopher Nolan
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite

Visually astonishing and brilliantly executed, if not overly long and a tad predictable. Take "Dreamscape" (1983), "The Matrix" (1999), and "Dark City" (1998), mix them up together with a James Bond treatment and you'll get something close to "Inception." Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are industrial spies, only they steal information from within peoples' dreams. When they fail a mission to extract information from a tough Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe), they end up on the run as wanted men. Then in a curious turn of events, Saito offers to clear Cobb's name in exchange for him taking on that fateful "one last job" to plant an idea into one of his competitor's heads. Cobb accepts the dangerous and difficult mission and assembles his ultimate "dream team" to get the job done. What follows is an intense journey into the realm of the subconscious that challenges the perceptions of reality and explores the dark recesses of human nature.

Typical of Christopher Nolan's work, the pacing the sluggish, but the tension and suspense that he creates are tangible and riveting. Since most of the film takes place in the dream world, real world rules don't apply, which gives the director an open license to get as outrageous as he wants. But Nolan keeps it simple and grounded by establishing a self consistent set of dream logic patterns that set the audience's expectations for the duration of the film. The dream world is a facade of reality, and the goal of the dream architect is to make it as realistic as possible so that the target is unaware that they are dreaming, or that they are in another person's dream. While the visual effects are absolutely astounding, there is no effort to push beyond that facade into a fantastical world of unreality. Nolan's subtle execution is superb, creating dream worlds that are just slightly strange enough to make you tense and nervous. The film features a strong and able cast and everyone does a great job. The weakest link happens to be DiCaprio, but I can't decide if that was due to his character or his performance. The best performance hands down goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose no-nonsense straight man complements DiCaprio's wavering sanity perfectly. The action scenes are excellently staged and full of energy, movement, and visual flair. The globe spanning locations are beautiful and reminiscent of a James Bond action travelogue. (As a side note, Nolan recently commented that he was interested in directing a Bond movie, and he effectively has with this film.) Nolan uses a straight forward no-nonsense approach to the entire film, which is extremely refreshing and allows the film to exist on its own terms without being self aware or bringing attention to itself. Brilliantly done.

The only aspect of the film that's overdone is Hans Zimmer's "Batman Begins" (2005) inspired music score. It overpowers everything else in the film and you're constantly aware of its presence. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the music does a great job of setting you on edge, and adds a huge punch to the breathtaking imagery. But it can be a bit overwhelming at times. The ambiguous ending actually had people yelling at the screen in the theater, and even though it was cheap and predictable, the execution was effective and well done. As a thriller, "Inception" may not have a lot of replay value, but the craftsmanship alone is worth multiple viewings. Definitely a contender for my favorite film of the year.