Visually the film is inventive and rich in detail, it is a film of ideas rather than echoes and emblems of a property steeped in popular culture. Inception is not the second coming as some have predicted but it doesn’t need to be. It is a simple story transported to a world familiar to us all, but until now has rarely been so effectively rendered on screen.
You could accuse the marketing department, showing the images of Paris enfolding and streets exploding in the trailers, of ruining the spectacle. But these are mere hints of what is in store. In common with The Matrix, a film which is easily an influence, conscious or not, you cannot be told what Inception is, you do have to see it for yourself. Yes, it shares ideas (and some direct images) with this film and others like Satoshi Kon’s Paprika but it grounds itself in a reality far from the colourful dreamscapes of Kon’s film and with less cartoon like elasticity of the world of Neo.
There are breathtaking moments, shadows of Escher appear while we are lead through the malleable world of dreams and tight restrictions are introduced which conspire to deliver the tension which Nolan ramps up right to the very last twist of the knife.
The celebrated trailer shots of suspended bodies and zero gravity fights appear and deliver the film’s action points, but there is a tightly controlled and contrived plot behind it all and it earns the emotional points it scores.
Christopher Nolan described the film as a heist movie and this is the foundation of the narrative drive but the path is strewn with trap doors and shifting sands and the rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper as the film progresses, resulting in four stories on four levels of reality; it’s like the set of Rear Window populated by the James Stewart and Grace Kelly as every couple.
The ideas behind the film are relatively unusual for a summer blockbuster and Inception cannot escape the slow start in which the audience is introduced to the ideas at play, but Nolan peppers the interplay with hints to a greater understanding rather than explaining it outright. The mystery escapes the muddle with an impeccable cast and a script which does as much to control the potential chaos of the ideas in play without ever feeling cheap.
Nolan has spoken of his influences (see our Exclusive interview with Nolan here) for the film, alluding to Escher (whose work we see stunningly adapted in its rendering here) and the labyrinths of Borges and the film needs a strong hand to guide you through its intricacies and Nolan and DiCaprio conspire to bring the wandering heroes of Borges to life here, with confusion and a worrying surrealism on one side and oblivion on the other.
DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt spark off of each other and Nolan newcomer Ellen Page does well with what is, at its essence, a cipher for the audience and her role is lost a little in the ensuing reality warp. Tom Hardy is easily the most exciting talent on offer here and makes the most of his character’s careless charm.
But it is Nolan as the puppet master who is the key to unlocking the puzzle of Inception. It’s a good, strong film, original and full of ideas and does what every good heist movie should and delivers tension, danger, strong and engaging characters as well as showing us things we’ve not seen on screen before. The decision to move away from CG and stick with as many practical visual effects as possible work wonders. The helicopter shots of chases through real cities do much to draw on the notion of cities as labyrinths and the IMAX friendly establishing shots offer a visual clue to the maze we are following Nolan through. The emotional heart of the movie between DiCaprio and an amazing, although sadly short, performance by Marion Cottilard works because this is their story, unravelled and unreliably told and at journey’s end we too are left standing after the madness and chaos with the credits offering us the film’s oblivion with a sense of wonder, and of potential of what is next for Nolan and for the summer blockbuster.
Inception is released in UK Cinemas July 16th. You can view all our coverage of the movie here.