Inception. Directed by Christopher Nolan. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, et al. Legendary Pictures, 2010. On general release. Certificate 12A (moderate violence).
Ever since he shot to fame with his reverse-chronological psychological thriller, 'Memento,' back in 2000, director Christopher Nolan's star has continued to rise. He has garnered both critical and commercial success with 'Insomnia,' a remake of a Norwegian suspense film which relocates the action to the frozen wastes of Alaska, and 'Batman Begins,' a dark reboot of the DC Comics franchise, along with the latter's sequel, 'The Dark Knight.'
Audiences should be waiting excitedly for Nolan's next Batman installment, scheduled for release in 2012. And with very good reason, judging by his latest picture, 'Inception,' which is perhaps the Brit's most ambitious project to date. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a master thief who uses the power of dreams to invade his marks' subconscious and steal information their conscious selves would normally prevent from disclosing. In one last mission, he is hired by a Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), to convince the son of a wealthy oil baron and Saito's corporate rival to break up his father's empire. It's an original premise, but as anyone who has seen the clunky Michael Jackson 'musical' "Thriller - Live" in the West End can tell you, a good idea badly executed sounds like a bad idea.
Fortunately, Nolan manages to assemble a believable cast around DiCaprio. Ellen Page in particular excels as the inexperienced but impassioned rookie in the gang, delivering an impressive turn when she confronts Cobb about the skeletons in his closet, which threaten to derail the entire operation. The dream sequences are visually striking, filled with projections (images of the subconscious), Penrose stairs and dizzying mirrors; at one point characters engage in a 360-degree tussle in an imaginary hotel corridor. But what really makes this film a winner is the plot: absorbing and genuinely suspenseful, it convinces as an update on the heist thriller, but its true power lies in the way Nolan exploits the most primal of human abilities - the capacity to dream - for subversive intentions. The ambiguous end may be a logical leap too far, but nevertheless the director's vision of a morally-fractured, heightened sense of reality within what is ostensibly an imagined world is so fully realised in this film, you may be hard-pressed to find another blockbuster this summer as rich, pacey and imaginative as this one.