Director-writer Christopher Nolan would have made a phenomenal puzzle master or game designer. Instead, he may have to settle for being an Oscar winner one of these days.
His movies are like intricately constructed three-dimensional puzzles or games that engage the left and right sides of the brain. Even as you're marveling at the sheer originality of the screenplay for "Inception," you are trying to figure out which layer of the dreamscape you're in and what is really going on.
"Inception" is a brilliant sci-fi action picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, an American thief who can steal secrets from others when they are asleep.
4 stars = Outstanding
- Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard.
- Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.
That makes him an "extractor" but a Japanese businessman named Saito (Ken Watanabe) has a proposition for him. Saito wants Cobb to plant an idea in a competitor's mind, much as advertisers sometimes weave subliminal pitches in their messages.
If Cobb can pull off this "inception," Saito will help him to reunite with his children. But first, he must assemble a team and attempt the seemingly impossible by crafting a dream within a dream within a dream.
Got that? Sometimes, you just gotta go with it and let yourself fall under the spell.
Cobb enlists Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the point man who is all about the details; Ariadne (Ellen Page), an architecture student who is a natural at mind-bending exercises; Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger and master of disguise; and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist who can formulate the all-important sleep solution.
Always on Cobb's mind is his wife, Mal, played by Marion Cotillard, Oscar winner for portraying French singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." In fact, Ms. Piaf's song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" about regretting nothing, is a haunting thread that pulls characters through the movie.
Another brainteaser by Mr. Nolan or just the right song at the right time?
Like miners, the deeper the dream team members venture, the more danger they will encounter. Time moves differently in a dream state, especially when it's a triple header.
Here is your cheat sheet to "Inception": It's roughly 21/2 hours long, has another remarkable DiCaprio performance bolstered by an excellent supporting cast also featuring Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and Tom Berenger; gravity-defying stunts; and images that are part M.C. Escher, part "Matrix," part James Bond (a sequence at a snowy fortress in particular) and all original.
"Inception" plays with the notion of an idea as powerful parasite along with the broader concepts of dreams, reality, memory, perception, time, space and gravity. It's the most visually interesting movie of the year, with city streets that can be folded up as though they were paper architectural models.
Writer-director Nolan rarely makes movies in conventional fashion. He told "Memento" from end to beginning, structured "The Prestige" like a three-part magic act, and toyed with identity and the line between hero and villain in his Batman blockbusters.
If "Inception" were a sentence, I'm not sure I could diagram it, and the film may require more than one viewing to really understand it. That second go-around may have to be on DVD with the director's commentary triggered.
However, in a summer of movies with dumb laughs or uninvolving adventure, it's a thrill to be challenged by a director who may be the smartest man in the multiplex.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at post-gazette.com/movies. First Published July 16, 2010 4:00 AM