Review by Gordon Justesen
Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen
Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 148 Minutes
Release Date: December 7, 2010
“You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
For those of us who have followed and admired the work of master auteur Christopher Nolan ever since his groundbreaking Memento nearly a decade ago, it's all been leading up this moment. He has never hit a false beat in his career, turning out nothing but one mesmerizing piece of filmmaking after another in the time since his genre-bending breakthrough. Thanks to the gargantuan box office success of The Dark Knight, Nolan was officially allowed to do things his way, no matter how high the budget was.
For Nolan, this meant being able to bring to life his most passionate project to date. It was a story he had spent the past ten years constructing, a cerebral and endlessly intricate sci-fi thriller taking place mostly within the dream world and beyond. It is called Inception, and it is without question Nolan's greatest filmmaking achievement since Memento, which is really saying a lot.
The many ways it mirrors the brilliance of Memento is simply remarkable, starting with the simple notion that this is Nolan's first wholly original piece of material since his 2001 masterpiece (all of his films in between were a remake, two movies based on a huge comic book property and an adaptation of a novel). Another similarity is that Inception merits re-watchability as there is so much to take in due to the intricacy of the story structure. And there's absolutely no question that you will discover something new with each viewing, as was the case with each Nolan film.
This haunting perception of the dreamworld is conveyed right away, as we are drawn into the business of dream invasion that's orchestrated by the lead character, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). We see him propose a business offering to his latest client, Saito (Ken Watanabe), a super rich energy mogul. But as the sequence progresses, we learn that all is not what it seems in terms of just how far into the dream world they really are.
Cobb is a highly trained “extractor”, someone who is able to enter the dreams of others to steal secret ideas hidden in their subconscious. The opening sequence reveals Cobb and his team of dream thieves to be stealing valuable information from Saito. Once the dream starts to collapse (and I'll leave it to you to see how this happens since describing it would ruin the powerful visual effect) and everyone wakes back up to reality, Saito reveals that this was not an actual job, bur rather an audition for a future one.
And this job would involve the opposite act of extraction, known as inception. By which, instead of stealing an idea from someone's mind, the object is to plant one as a way of motivating a decision. It's a feat that Cobb has never executed in his line of work simply because such an act has never been pulled off, even though the concept is rumored to be possible.
The job involves implanting an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), a man on the verge of inheriting his dying father's energy corporation. Saito wants Fischer influenced to not take the position, which if he did means he would king of the energy business market. Corporate espionage is the name of the game here.
So Cobb then assembles his team of dream thieves much in the style of a heist crew. His point man is Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who checks into clients backgrounds. His new team members are Eames (Tom Hardy), a master of disguise and forgery, Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a master chemist who can create a rare and powerful sedative to keep everyone in the dream heavily sedated, and Ariadne (Ellen Page), a skillful architect who outlines the designs of the dreamscape.
But there's a risk involved in this process. Cobb's own subconscious harbors a deadly distraction in the form of his dead wife, Mol (Marion Cotillard). He is filled with immense guilt following her death, and because of this she can pop up anywhere at any given moment during a dream. With this subplot, Nolan continues his exploration of themes involving guilt, as well as an obsession with the past and never being able to let it go.
The way the film explores the elaborate process that goes into setting up the dream process is flat out remarkable. There's a great deal of exposition dialogue, which if overdone can usually be a major turnoff, but it's actually a necessity here. And Nolan, being the incredibly smart writer that he is, is able to handle expository dialogue in a way that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence, which is a truly difficult task.
And once Cobb and his team begin the inception procedure...all I can say is prepare to have your jaw hit the floor on more than once occasion. There are so many moments here that delivered a jolt to my system in ways few movies have been capable of doing. I was reminded of the first time I saw The Matrix, because no other movie since then has astonished me in such visceral ways in sequence after sequence.
In describing the brilliance of such sequences, I find myself conflicted on a major level. The action set pieces and dazzling visuals that accompany them set a whole new standard. I'm not going to spoil specifics except to say that if you caught the bit in the trailer showing two men fighting in a hotel hall way, believe me when I tell you that this sequence is even more astonishing and potent when viewed in context of the movie.
In addition to every phenomenal quality Nolan was able to bring to this project, he also managed to put together one of the best casts ever assembled for a big budget release. Leonardo DiCaprio, who for my money has the best track record of any actor working today, delivers another tremendously effective performance as the intelligent but slightly damaged Cobb. Between this and Shutter Island, DiCaprio demonstrates that he is absolutely fearless when it comes to exploring characters who are somewhat psychologically scarred.
And every actor in the supporting cast gets to have a signature moment in the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at the heart of the movie's most riveting action sequence, and his physical strengths are extremely impressive. Ken Watanabe is commanding as always in a most unpredictable role, and British actor Tom Hardy walks away with the breakout role of the movie, and also walks away the film's greatest line of dialogue...which you may have caught at the beginning of the piece.
It's become something of a cliché in the realm of film reviewing to use the phrase “unlike anything you've ever seen before” as a way of getting across how brilliant a particular motion picture is. But I can't imagine anyone watching Inception unfold before them and not exclaiming those exact words with sheer enthusiasm after seeing it. It's a film that was sorely needed in a year of mediocre retreads and sequels, but a film this extraordinarily original would be considered groundbreaking, unforgettable and mind-blowing no matter what year it was released. This is quite simply a new found cinematic classic!
Christopher Nolan's films share another thing in common; they all look amazingly fantastic on Blu-ray. This one, however, tops them all! A great bit of the effect in Nolan's films comes courtesy of his cinematographer, Wally Pfistor. With this film, Nolan and Pfistor have brought a grand scale look to the film, exceeding even that of the Batman movies, The visual effects sequences, most notably the shot of streets and buildings folding on top of one another, will astound your specs to no end. Color appearance and image detail are also remarkable, as each dream sequence carries its own unique design. When you have a film as great as this that's also exhilarating to look at...and in HD, then it goes without saying that you've got a true keeper on your hands!
Even more astounding is the DTS HD mix, which is unquestionably the best sound mix on any Blu-ray release this year! When Hans Zimmer's magnificently rousing score kicks in during the opening studio logos, it perfectly sets up the one of a kind sound presentation you're in store for. The dream world that Nolan presents brings with it an astounding and original use of sound to be heard in any film, and through this lossless audio mix it comes across even more so. And I can't even begin to describe the feeling I got during the moments when the music score accompanies the jaw-dropping action sequences. The balance between the music and action is about as potent and flawless as it gets. Dialogue delivery is terrifically handled, as expected. Expect some grand sub woofer action, too! Top-notch in every aspect!
Warner has accompanied this Blu-ray release with the amount of excellence that it deserves. We get a two discs worth of extras, starting with the Extraction Mode viewing option. While watching the movie, the action will stop and delve into extensive behind the scenes footage surrounding a particular sequence in the film. These bits can also be viewed separately, but I prefer this viewing mode, which extends the viewing time to 3 hours and 10 minutes!
Disc Two contains even more behind the scenes material. “Behind the Story”, which is comprised of two separate documentaries; “Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious”, which covers the issue of dreams and features interviews with noted scientists and dream experts. The second bit is titled “Inception: The Colbol Job”, which is an in-motion comic prequel to the events of the film. Both add up to an hour in running time. Also included are selections from Hans Zimmer's score in 5.1 sound, as well as Conceptual Art, Promotional Art and Trailer/TV Spot galleries. And through BD Live, you can access the feature titled “Project Somnacin: Confidential Files”, which contains information regarding the Dream-share technology.
Lastly, there's a third bonus disc containing a DVD version of the film as well as a downloadable Digital Copy edition.
Rarely has a single film both met and surpassed such high expectations like Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking masterpiece, Inception. Seeing it for the first time is one of the best cinematic experiences I've ever had in my life, and the repeated viewings that have followed are rewarding on a huge scale. This is simply filmmaking at its most remarkable, and one of the must have Blu-ray releases of the year!