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Movie Review: Inception

by KYW's Bill Wine

Talk about dream movies.

Showing up just in time to redeem the so-far-underachieving 2010 movie summer, dominated as it is by sequels and remakes and spinoffs and adaptations, along comes writer-director Christopher Nolan's audacious Inception to remind us just how stimulating a movie can be with one crucial ingredient:  originality.

Of course, Inception has a lot of other things going for it as well.   That it's bursting with ideas is just for starters.

Leonardo Di Caprio is Dom Cobb, the leader of a team of freelance "dream thieves."  They've developed a process whereby they can "share" dreams.

And they're more than just corporate spies.  These agents insert themselves into strangers' subconsciouses while they're sleeping, to extract useful and exploitable ideas and secrets.

It's corporate espionage at its most sophisticated level, and Cobb is the best dream extractor there is.

(More below...)

His success has come at a steep price, however, because he is a fugitive, banned from the United States and thus prohibited from seeing his family -- his wife, played by Marion Cotillard, and his young son and daughter.

Then a tycoon played by Ken Watanabe presents Cobb with a challenging new assignment, one that could provide him with the opportunity to get his life back.  He wants Cobb to plant an idea into the mind of his business rival (Cillian Murphy).

So the miracle he must pull off isn't one of extraction but inception.  This time, he will not be removing something or stealing it, but inserting it.

If he's successful, he'll be able to return and see his loved ones.  So Cobb puts a "Mission: Impossible"-like team together, including Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

As the inverse heist unfolds, Cobb must come to grips with his checkered past and reinvent himself as a result of his journey through his and others' dreams.

The remarkable Nolan, with his sparkling directorial résumé  (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige), offers us a generously layered story -- driven by notions and concepts, true, but including plenty of first-rate, grippingly suspenseful action scenes bolstered with functional but occasionally astonishing special effects.

Dreams abound, as do dreams within dreams, some spilling into one another, and, time being fluid in dreamland, they proceed at different speeds.  But all follow a certain internal logic, and they do not need to obey the physical laws.

In other words, buckle up.

That said, these dream segments are nonetheless always thoroughly motivated and thoughtfully tied to the film's subject matter and themes, including death and grief and guilt.

And when you begin to think about this process of planting ideas in people's minds, the movie ends up also seeming a metaphor for the making of those shared dreams we call movies.

Sometimes we're not quite sure whether what we're watching is dream or reality, and that's part of Nolan's plan: to construct an adroitly edited psychological puzzle that forces us to make our own judgments.  Alternating as it does between the dreamworld and reality -- and commuting from one exotic, photogenic site to another like a James Bond flick -- Inception takes the chance of overwhelming or dizzying the audience.

In that regard, it should probably be said that casual viewers may find the film overly operatic or complex or bewildering.   Let's put it this way: it's certainly a work that demands -- and rewards -- careful, thoughtful attention.

Di Caprio, in charge of getting and keeping us emotionally invested, operates at such a high level of lead-role acting (just as he did earlier this year in Scorsese's Shutter Island) that he makes it look suspiciously easy.  Once again, he is can't-take-your-eyes-off-him compelling without being in any way show-offy.

Epic in scope but emotionally intimate, Inception is the kind of movie that will trigger discussions and analyses and arguments galore, even though it's (gasp!) summer.

But Nolan has made it ambiguous enough to allow for all kinds of interpretations, and that's part of the reason why lots of folks are going to want to see it again.   Right away.  I, for one.

So we'll dream up 3½ stars out of 4 for Christopher Nolan's mind-bending, idea-lending, time-worth-spending, visionary science fiction adventure.  From conception through reception, Inception is the exception: a hypnotic, exhilarating thriller with lots on its mind -- and ours.

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