A NOTE: I intend for this to be a mostly spoiler free review, however, I can’t guarantee I’m not giving something away. If you don’t want anything spoiled and you haven’t seen Inception and intend to, you probably should avoid reading this.

Friday night I saw Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception, with the nice folks at Boiling Sky Film Group. Inception was an interesting film that approaches some questions about the nature of what is real without belaboring the philosophical point. It manages to be a fun caper of the Ocean’s 11 variety while also engaging in a post-modern examination of what we see as real.

The plot of Inception is actually very simple, it’s a heist film. It follows the beats of your typical heist film and understanding that can help keep one focused as the film gets, literally, mind-bending. The thing that differentiates the film from other heist films is that it takes place within dreams, within a human mind. This frees us from restrictions that often plague heist films and the over the top nature and sometimes extreme convenience of their plots. Almost anything can occur within a dream and Inception uses that without overusing it.

After the film I found myself unsure if I was happy or not with the approach to dreams Nolan took. In the dreams just about anything can happen, but it doesn’t push that to the sort of extremes seen in films like Dreamscape or the Nightmare on Elm Street series of films. After some thought I decided that I not only liked the approach Nolan took but that I also respected the restraint he exercised. There are rules to the dream worlds in Inception and they are followed closely.

Early in the film the rules for dreams are established. The rules are simple enough and repeated with enough frequency so if you missed it once you’re unlikely to miss it again. They aren’t repeated too often and when some of the rules change by about the middle of the film it makes sense within the world of the film.

From a structural standpoint, a plot standpoint, Inception is one of the best film’s I’ve seen. It has a clear plot that firmly roots it within its genre and the way it plays with its genre is to change the setting and to open up the possibilities of the film beyond those of most that have come before. It establish its rules and follows them closely. It lets you know what you need to know to understand the action and does it in a way that is visually compelling. The lead character’s goal is clearly stated and the plot of the film is the means to his end.

It is his end and the film’s end that have kept me thinking about it since I left the theater. It’s the sort of end you want to write some day. The one that keeps people thinking, the one that might just reframe the rest of the film’s action entirely. The ending that makes people want to see it again. Yet, the film doesn’t rely on that ending for the success of its story. The film is easily enjoyed without the perspective changing revelation of its final moments.

Inception is an improvement over Nolan’s previous film The Dark Knight in that there were  no parts of the film that I felt could have been completely removed with no significant impact to the story. Also, Inception, was better focused than The Dark Knight. While I loved The Dark Knight I strongly feel that the entire sequence in Hong Kong could be removed with no impact to the film except to save about 20 minutes worth of scenes that add nothing to the plot of the film. Also, The Dark Knight seemed unsure if it was an ensemble film or not. In the end, the film gives more or less equal time to the Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent characters but Harvey Dent is really the core of the film and in many ways the main character, though, not really given quite the time he should have for that. Inception doesn’t have those problems, it’s long but tightly plotted without any particular sequences that should have been completely excised. It has a clear main character who drives the film’s action and with whom we, as audience members, can make a connection. That said the film is almost hyper focused on its main character leading to one of the few complaints I have about the film.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb is the film’s lead and really the only character who has motivations or really much character at all. Most of the rest of the characters are very very thin to the point that some are one dimensional and others barely extend beyond being one dimensional. Inception benefits greatly from a stellar cast including Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Coillard, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy who bring these mostly thin characters to life enough that you’re almost fooled that the characters are fully realized. Tom Hardy, in particular, continues to impress me after his fantastic performance in last year’s Bronson. While there is perhaps an in story explanation for the thinness of their characterizations, I don’t think that excuses it.

Overall, Inception is an excellent film. Beautifully shot, carefully plotted, and well acted. I have some complaints about some of the writing but in the face of an otherwise extremely well made film they don’t reduce my opinion of it. Its ending still has me thinking three days later. Also, Inception is an example of the sort of thing I love to see, a director improving on his storytelling technique even after an extremely successful effort like The Dark Knight.

This is Part One of three posts I have planned for this week about Inception. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on seeing Inception “fresh.”

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