There is no question that director Christopher Nolan dreams big. After “The Dark Knight” became one of the most successful superhero adaptations of all time, he returns with “Inception,” definitely one of the year’s most ambitious movies so far. Is it original and interesting? Sure. Is it a masterpiece? No.
That story that seems to have eluded everybody during the trailers is this. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, an extractor who can pull thought-heists on people while they dream. He has not been allowed to go home to the U.S since being charged with the death of his wife (Marion Cotillard), something that a businessman (Ken Watanabe) offers to change if Cobb and his partner (Joseph Gordon Levitt) can implant a dangerous idea into the mind of a rival businessman (Cillian Murphy). He puts his dream-team together (Ellen Page plays dream architect, Dileep Rao plays a chemist, and Tom Hardy plays a forger), but constant memories of his deceased wife muddle his thinking.
Like “The Matrix,” Nolan cares not for the laws of physics, creating awesome visual dreamscapes, like a Paris street that folds into a box (asphalt and driving cars become the ceiling and the sides) and another where characters fight while the dream leaves them spinning and weightless. The ingeniousness of this is how the real world contributes the danger the characters face in the dream world. Just like most ambitious movies, Nolan falls into that trap of too many dense, hard-to-follow explanations. He also seems to be making up the rules as he goes along.
The many characters, dream rules, and setting shifts (characters are able to travel a dream within a dream within a dream, etc.) are enough to set your head to spin. Ellen Page even jokes at one point, “So whose sub-conscious are we hacking into now?” Many times we sit in total confusion, wondering what the characters are saying or why they are doing what they are doing. Emotionally the only thing that really works is the haunting and beautifully acted love story, which DiCaprio and Cotillard are both terrific in, giving the movie its tragedy and major obstacle.
The rest of the cast all seem to be having fun, but aren’t called upon to go nearly as deep. This “Mission Impossible” meets the “The Matrix” hybrid is original and fascinating enough to keep us wondering what will happen next, only it’s disappointing that it’s too talky and confounding to really work dramatically.