Directed by Christopher Nolan
Revew by Lou Lumenick
Whose subconscious are we going into exactly?” asks a character in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller “Inception.”
This gets a big laugh in a sublime brain-twister of a movie that plays out so intricately on so many levels simultaneously that a bathroom break comes at your own peril. Text for a few seconds and you may miss a key development.
Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of high-tech corporate saboteurs who descend deep into a target’s dreams — with quite a few detours, some of them roadblocks set up by DiCaprio’s late wife (Marion Cotillard).
In a season of brain-dead spinoffs, “Inception” stands out as a singularly cerebral exception and will generously reward your 148 minutes of undivided attention. I strongly suspect a second visit will pay off even more.
Not weighed down by the comic-book mythology of the two “Batman” movies and given a reported $150-million budget for his original concept, writer-director Nolan is free to let his imagination soar on an epic scale.
Abetted by a world-class team of collaborators, he’s crafted an instant sci-fi classic that surpasses its most obvious recent influences, “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix.”
Unlike 99 percent of movies, the less you know about “Inception” going in, the better.
So I’d advise you to stop reading now and head for the theater. OK, so you want more?
DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an expert at entering victims’ dreams and extracting industrial secrets.
He cannot return to the United States for reasons that are initially unclear, but prove to be emotionally resonant.
He’s approached by a wealthy businessman (Ken Watanabe) who wants Dom to reverse his usual procedure and instead implant an idea in a mark.
Dom is to enter the dreams of the heir to an empire (Cillian Murphy) and convince him to dismantle it to the businessman’s benefit.
With a return to the US and a reunion with his two children dangled as the payoff, Dom assembles a dream team.
There’s his longtime organizer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); an architect (Ellen Page) who constructs dazzling dream worlds; a “forger” (Tom Hardy) who can impersonate anyone at will; and a pharmacist (Dileep Rao) who enables very deep sleep.
It isn’t just as simple as putting the victim to sleep for 10 hours. The team and their client not only enter his dreams, but they enter dreams within his dreams and dreams within those dreams — so those 10 hours can translate into 10 years on the lowest level.
Only the architect knows that Dom’s late-wife-from-hell is lurking on all of those levels, and maybe even one below that, to mess with Dom’s mind.
The idea of entering dreams to manipulate someone isn’t new — “Dreamscape” did that back in 1984 — but Nolan raises the stakes with brilliantly deployed effects (Gordon-Levitt walking on ceilings is just one “wow” moment) and a fast-moving, globe-spanning story.
DiCaprio, who has never been better as the tortured hero, draws you in with a love story that will appeal even to non-sci-fi fans. Meanwhile, Nolan ratchets up the suspense as he shifts seamlessly between the different dreams and reality.
He blurs the distinction between dreams and reality so artfully that “Inception” may well be a masterpiece masquerading as a summer blockbuster.
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe