INCEPTION is a masterpiece; the movie that we've been waiting for Christopher Nolan to make since hitting the scene a decade ago with MEMENTO. It combines his smart psychological fascinations with his surprisingly innate ability to command big budget blockbusters. The fact that Nolan was able to turn in a cerebral $160 million thriller based on an original story, let alone a successful summer blockbuster, is an achievement upon itself. The fact that it's this good a film is a miracle.
As much as it twists reality and the viewers' minds, INCEPTION also plays with genre. Nolan cultivates an imaginative mix of sci-fi, action, psychological thriller, drama and more. (He even gets to do a little James Bond-style spy movie for good measure.) The plot itself follows a standard heist story with potentially stock characters, but Cobb's rich backstory offers an emotional backbone to an otherwise potentially cold exercise in big ideas and technical achievement. Ample time is given to set up the importance for the characters' actions and success, which then leaves Nolan to wow us with his cinematic wizardry.
And the director definitely does not squander the opportunity to play in a giant sandbox of dreams and imagination. Steering away from something overpowering or chaotic like a Gilliam flick, Nolan opts for a more realistic approach to the dream world that’s more universal and grand in scope. The world of INCEPTION is realized on an enormous scale, filming worldwide on location in Paris, Morocco, England, Canada and the U.S. with an equally international cast, as well as on the page. The script plays with storytelling and time in intriguing ways that are perfectly executed on screen, balancing multiple plots within plots, characters existing in different planes, and simultaneous action beats with effortless ease. The extension and collapsing of narrative time leads to some amazing elements of tension and suspense. As you watch the "kicks" line up—the van falling nanosecond by nanosecond, Arthur floating through zero-gravity trying to get everyone in place, the ski chase outside the compound, and Cobb confronting his wife in limbo as their city falls to the ground—it's so perfectly realized that you have to wonder what textbooks and future students of film will say about it for generations to come.
It's easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the storytelling and not truly appreciate the hard work that went in to its execution and just how gorgeous INCEPTION is. Wally Pfister captures some stunning images, from the beautiful settings to extreme slow motion photography to some mind-bending action, and it's all done as practical and tangible as possible. As per Nolan's usual methods, CGI is only used here to highlight or extend existing effects, never cheat the viewer. The result is a lot of enormous miniatures, controlled explosions, complicated stunt rigs, and full sized sets built to move and manipulate the actors. The most memorable obviously is the anti-gravity fight between Arthur and the hotel security. The sequence, though brief, leaves a lasting impact on the audience and offers up something exciting that hasn't been seen quite like this. And it was all accomplished through weeks of hard work and physical effort, which is obvious to the viewer.
However, you could have two hours of face melting action and it wouldn't mean anything without the story and the heart, brought out by the talented cast. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to defy my post-TITANIC expectations and gives a remarkable performance that anchors the movie and manages to stand out amongst other fine supporting turns from Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy each almost steal the show, playing Cobb's heavy lifters, and are young actors to pay attention to. And then there's Marion Cotillard, who I took for granted upon first viewing as someone who just has great chemistry with DiCaprio. As Cobb's haunting wife, Mal is almost the soul of the entire movie, bringing depth, exciting conflict and new revelations at each turn, yet she is someone that we never truly see. Mal is only viewed in the film through the lens of her husband's memories, existing as a dream in someone else's perception. Cotillard uses this to her advantage, hinting at the real Mal, and acting as a literal force throughout the movie.
I haven't even gotten to INCEPTION's highly charged ending, potential meanings and subtextual readings (my favorite being the characters correlating to a film crew). As you can see this is a film that's easy to discuss, examine and revisit, which truly the best films are.
Extraction Mode: Like other Blu-Rays with similar features, this alternate viewing mode weaves scene-specific doc weaved in and out of the narrative, giving you a behind the scenes glimpse at how the sequence was conceived and filmed. All the major set pieces get this treatment, along with interviews with Nolan and the cast and crew, who discuss writing, production design, and more. This is definitely an extra bonus worthy of watching with your 3rd or 4th viewing. When added up, the total supplemental material here is about 45 minutes, which makes the entire "experience" a little over 3 hours total.
Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (44:30): This documentary, hosted and I believe conceived by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an in-depth scientific study on dreams, their nature in our lives and what they might mean. Levitt speaks with multiple professors and experts in the field (as well as Nolan) and talks about his own personal creative connection to dreams. A nice added bonus to the fictional reality portrayed in the movie.
Inception: The Cobol Job (14:33): This motion comic provides the backstory to the dream heist briefly mentioned in the film that leads up to the opening of the movie. It's interesting and adds to the story ever so slightly. The stylized animation was more appealing than the Watchmen Motion Comic, but there's no spoken dialogue at all. I can't help but wish the actors had recorded their own parts for it.
Project Somnacin: Confidential Files: An exploration of the dream share technology, which I thought was expertly not explained in the film. This requires a BD-Live connection.
5.1 Isolated Score: Hans Zimmer's music gets some serious respect here, with the ability to listen to any of the tracks in glorious high-definition surround sound. BWAAAAAHMM
You also get a Conceptual Art Gallery, a Promotional Art Gallery and Trailers.
Extra Tidbit: And because I didn’t get a chance to discuss Hans Zimmer’s fantastic score for the film, I'll leave you with some cool music-related info. Johnny Marr from The Smiths (and recently Modest Mouse) played guitar on the soundtrack. The orchestra was very brass heavy and featured 6 bass trombones, 6 regular trombones, 4 tubas and 6 French horns. And the now famous BWAAAAAHM sound is actually meant to be a slowed down version of the opening trumpet at the beginning of the Édith Piaf song, "Non, je ne regrette rien," which is used in the film to signal the incoming kick.