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This article was published 15/7/2010 (3354 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Those rare critics who feel charitable to Michael Bay's Transformers movies like to claim that ilk of summer entertainment allows audiences to "turn off" their brains and submit to a big, stupid, thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride.
Judging by the ridiculous success of Transformers 1 and 2, that notion has evidently taken hold, even as it sets its rock 'em-sock 'em robots to maul accepted standards of good storytelling.
But here in 2010, a Transformers off-year, writer-director Christopher Nolan's big-budget summer movie Inception is a cogent renunciation of big stupid cinema.
Utilizing a plot device that simultaneously invokes Wes (Nightmare on Elm Street) Craven and Andrei (Solaris) Tarkovsky, Nolan says we can have our grand spectacle and chew it over, too.
Inception posits a few interesting ideas along the way. Indeed, ideas are the stock in trade for the film's haunted hero Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Having learned how to install himself and his cohorts into the dreams of others, Cobb sells his services as a thief of ideas, able to access the most valuable information via the unconscious slumber of his targets.
The gig can make Dom money, but it can't reunite him with his children in the U.S. (He lives in exile due to legal troubles that are, sorry, not revealed until the third act.) So Dom is susceptible when the powerful Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a payoff that will allow him to return to his kids.
But the assignment is a radical one, even for a man of Dom's talents. Instead of stealing an idea from his mark, Dom must implant an idea that it would be a smart move for the scion (Cillian Murphy) of a recently deceased industrialist to break up and sell off components of the family-owned corporation.
Dom takes the job at a considerable risk. He must hire on a new unproven "architect" (Ellen Page) to design the necessary dreamscapes, alongside his regulars: Point man Arthur (a cool, understated Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the can-do agent and Eames (Tom Hardy) is a "forger" capable of disguising himself as friends and /or loved ones of the designated victim.
Compounding the challenge is Mal (Marion Cotillard), a femme fatale "dream girl" who shows up uninvited in the dream scenarios via Dom's own subconscious to throw a wrench into his elaborate plans.
Nolan's film delivers massive visual effects, including one amazing sequence set in dream-reality where the world is turned on its side and Arthur is obliged to stay on task, even if that means running on walls and ceilings or grappling with bad guys in virtual freefall.
But that sequence is hardly gratuitous. Nolan stages action on four separate levels of consciousness where each deeper level is more unstable than the last. Let's just say that's a little more challenging than trying to pick out which Transformer is good and which is bad.
But it's not all fun and surreal spectacle. DiCaprio and Cotillard provide a layer of emotional gravity at the film's core as Dom must contend with Mal, the demoness within.
In short, Nolan does here for the heist film what he did for the comic book movie in his 2008 hit The Dark Knight. He layers a fantasy premise with provocative ideas and serious intent.
Enjoy the ride. But keep the brain turned on.
Selected excerpts from reviews of Inception.
In a summer of remakes, reboots and sequels comes Inception, easily the most original movie idea in ages.
— Kirk Honeycutt,
If movies are shared dreams, then Christopher Nolan is surely one of Hollywood's most inventive dreamers, given the evidence of his commandingly clever Inception.
— Justin Chang, Variety
In this wildly ingenious chess game, grandmaster Nolan plants ideas in our heads that disturb and dazzle. The result is a knockout.
— Peter Travers,
With physics-defying, thunderous action, heart-wringing emotion and an astonishing performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, Nolan delivers another true original.
— Nev Pierce,
More admirable in intellectual ambition and technical execution than in emotional impact, Inception is an unusual blockbuster, driven by ideas rather than CGI action, but also excessive and overwrought in the last hour.
— Emanuel Levy,
I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn't want to be out in the cold, alone. But I truly have no idea what so many people are raving about.
— David Edelstein,
New York magazine
It's obvious that Nolan either can't articulate or doesn't believe in a distinction between living feelings and dreams — and his barren Inception doesn't capture much of either.
— Nick Pinkerton,
— Compiled by Postmedia News
n Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
n Garden City, Globe, Grant Park, Kildonan Place, Polo Park, St. Vital.
4 out of 5 stars
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.