Rating: 9 out of 10
Everyone fears the sophomore curse, when you break out of the gate in any type of popular media with something so unique, so gripping and so monumentally accepted by the ravenous public that you set the bar high into the stratosphere, making it impossible for your second creative effort to even bask in the reflection of that initial glory. It frightens each and every person stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight, but there is a misconception lingering making people feel safe after they are past their second credit. The cold, hard fact is each and every time you release something out to the public it is another audition to the world. If your newest effort becomes known as the best of your career, congratulations my friend, welcome back to the curse. It’s been right here waiting for you. Christopher Nolan felt the sting of the curse after his breakout indie darling, Memento, which he followed with a poorly timed remake of the chilly psychological thriller, Insomnia. Yet Nolan fought onward and grabbed hold of the frayed cape of the Batman franchise and resurfaced with a much more dark and gritty take on the legendary crusader in Batman Begins. This inevitably led to his crowning achievement in the comic book sequel, The Dark Knight, where the world witnessed the true beauty of a director and actor, in Heath Ledger, creating something that will be remembered and talked about for generations. As the accolades for The Dark Knight poured in, Nolan found himself right back in the lap of the curse, plotting his escape, scanning the horizons for a safe way out. Turns out, he found his escape not by looking outside, but by turning in.
Inception is the name given to a procedure where a person with incredibly specific skills and equipment can enter someone else’s dreams and gently plant the seed of an idea, which would then flourish and grow in that person naturally, culminating in the subject doing exactly what you wanted them to. Most believe it can’t be done, but one man, Cobb, says it is not just possible, but he’s done it before. Hired for one last job, Cobb builds a team of people to help him complete his mission and try to win his ticket home to his children.
The out and out winner here is the writing. While the directing and acting, which will be mentioned later, are both up to par, the writing of such an intricate, delicate and verbose script is an achievement worth high recognition. People are already talking Oscar race for this film, and while I might be on the fence right now in the Best Picture category (we still have quite a few months to go people), in the arena of Best Original Screenplay, this should be a shoe-in. Nolan is truly at his best when dealing with fragmented and fractured realities, achieving a tender balance between intrigue and confusion that makes the audience think, but not feel stupid if they all come up with different answers at the end. As for the ending, I’ll leave that for later, loudly hidden behind the spoiler warnings.
Moving onto the acting, Leonardo DiCaprio, who played our anti-hero Cobb, once again brims with sheer determination and builds layer upon layer into the role. The only fraction of a flaw in his performance in my eyes is it bordered on being too controlled. At times there felt perfect opportunities to let him fly off the handle or just peel back one more layer, showing his humanity, but the importance of the job and the need for sharp and complete focus kept him tightly wrapped up. Tom Hardy, playing Eames, the wise-cracking master thief of the group, steals many of the scenes not only due to his skill as an actor, but because he provides the only comic relief in the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Arthur, brings back a little bit of his steam-train determination and tunnel-vision drive that he perfected in Brick. Overall all the performances were on point, but in the minority there were two people that I felt were under used and under developed, Michael Caine and Ellen Page. Caine is a tremendous actor that felt totally wasted in a partially unexplained cameo part (he’s mentioned as the grandfather to Cobb’s children, but it is never illustrated whether he is Cobb’s father or his stepfather.) As for Page, while they try with one line of dialogue to cover over her rapid acceptance of the world of dreams and being able to control them, she still ends up feeling rushed into the story more as a person to move the plot than a full fledged character.
***SPOLIER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM***
Now let’s talk about that ending. While I really do enjoy a nice ‘leave ‘em hanging’ closer, I think people are reading way too much into it. Yes, the top was still spinning, and yes the idea was to make you wonder if Cobb is still in a dream at the end of the film, but the theory that the entire movie was all a dream inside Cobb’s mind, showing his own journey to release himself of the guilt of pushing his wife to suicide, well, that just doesn’t sit right with me. The ‘whole dream’ theory robs the movie of all its importance and power and steals all the thunder from the other characters. I prefer to believe the top would have fallen in time; it was just really well balanced.
Nolan is on a hot streak that could see him crowned as one of the greatest directors in our generation, but let’s not pressure him too much, right? Inception is clever, intriguing and everything you want in a psychological drama, even if it draws a little long at the end. Worth seeing, if only for the ensuing discussion you will have immediately after.
What did you think of the ending? Does this top ‘Dark Knight’ for you?