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Genre: Drama, Thriller
Country: United States
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao, Lukas Haas, Marion Cotillard, Talulah Riley
Director: Christopher Nolan
Run time: 137 minutes
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
The thing that struck me most about Inception, initially, was how similar it is to Shutter Island. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a very similar character in both movies, with similar dead-wife issues and a similar haunted tough-guy demeanor. The set-up is similar as well. Is this a dream? Is it reality? Caught in a landslide…I felt as though DiCaprio could have made (and maybe did make) both movies at the exact same time. All he’d have to do would be to change his clothes between takes. Now, that being said, I do think DiCaprio is the best actor working today. And there are subtle differences between the characters that make a big difference. But not enough of a difference to prevent me from thinking of Shutter Island constantly throughout Inception.
When it comes right down to it though, Inception is a much better film. Whereas Shutter Island was constrained by its potboiler template, Inception is constrained by nothing. It’s a film about people who sneak into the dreams of others in order to steal their secrets while they are sleeping. In order to do so, these thieves construct their target’s dream world for them. And we all know that in dreams, anything can happen and it seems totally normal to us. So when there is no gravity, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fighting a bad guy on the ceiling, it works. When entire cities fold up on themselves, and freight trains suddenly appear in the middle of a downtown city block, it makes sense. No special effect could have been created for this movie that didn’t make sense.
All of that means that director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento) can just play. He can create whatever world he likes, he can have characters doing anything he wants, and anything he can dream can be thrown up on screen. What results is an absolute visual treat, a staggering accomplishment in the action thriller genre. Also, what this means is that this is a blockbuster that can afford the luxury of having a story and an intelligent script. I always had trouble with movies like The Matrix, because they thought they were a lot smarter than they actually were, and there were substantial plot holes. But Inception (despite a few, very minor leaps in logic) works beginning to end.
The effects and set design are two things that make Inception great. The intelligence of the script and the realiztic dialogue are two more. But I think the greatest coup of all was the cast. I think Leonardo DiCaprio, as I said before, is the best actor in the world today. (With Daniel Day-Lewis a very close second.) And looking at this cast, I see the future of great, dramatic movies in Hollywood. I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy are two of the absolute best actors in the world, and they will soon be major breakout stars. Marion Cotillard has an Oscar and a run of Hollywood films since then, but she is not yet a household name. She will be. And Ellen Page is already big-time, but she can still be a bigger star. And she will be. (Although she isn’t given very much to do in this movie, which is too bad.)
Inception is not Christopher Nolan’s best work. That would be The Dark Knight. It isn’t DiCaprio’s best movie either (The Departed), nor is it his best performance (Revolutionary Road). But it’s a close second in many of those respects, and that’s an incredible achievement.