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Teen Review: ‘Inception’

Almost a Masterpiece

Above: Leonardo DiCaprio can enter people's dreams in "Inception"

For many, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (opened July 16 throughout San Diego) stands as the last great hope to alter the course of an increasingly dreadful summer movie season.

Saddled with the almost limitless resources that befit the man responsible for the 1.9 billion dollar box office behemoth that was “The Dark Knight,” Nolan has no intention to disappoint. The sheer level of imagination and visual spectacle on display here is mind-boggling, as is the intricately convoluted plot (it’s no wonder Nolan’s been working to crack this screenplay for the better part of a decade).

Going into “Inception,” I’d seriously recommend knowing as little as possible so you can allow yourself to properly receive the awe and majesty of Nolan’s vision. I felt remorse about knowing when certain visual treats were heading my way thanks to the film’s merciless ad campaign. But I’ll provide only a little bit of the set-up.

The film tells the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an “extractor” who sedates and then enters the dreams of various targets so as to extract information and/or ideas from within their mind. The focus of the film is on a new job for Dom and his team of dream infiltrators. This time Dom is not told to extract an idea but instead to artificially plant one in the mind of a corporate heir (Cillian Murphy). The prospect of planting an idea -- known as “inception” -- proves daunting since the mind is incredibly resilient to foreign manipulations. But the man who hires Cobb offers him a pretty sweet deal if he’s willing to take on the risks. And I’ll leave it at that.

While the film succeeds, it does so because of story and plot mechanics rather than fully realized characters and emotions. That’s not to say the actors don’t try; Nolan has gathered an incredibly diverse, magnificently talented ensemble that invest themselves completely in this story. Some particularly notable performances include Ellen Page as the newly recruited “architect” of Cobb’s dream worlds; Tom Hardy as the visage shifting “forger;” and Murphy, who supplies perhaps the most affecting performance as the tormented son of a dying corporate mogul. And then there’s DiCaprio, who delivers a performance not too dissimilar from his role in this year’s “Shutter Island” as he plays the outwardly cool but secretly tortured Cobb with ample determination and commitment.

Ken Wantanabe and Marion Cotillard upset a dream world in "Inception"

Warner Brothers

Above: Ken Wantanabe and Marion Cotillard upset a dream world in "Inception"

Why the film seems to add up to a bit less than the sum of its parts is mostly because of the audacity and complexity of Nolan’s vision. The audience is required to sit through pretty much a solid hour of exposition and set-up to prepare for Nolan’s technical masterstroke of a finale when the actual “heist” of the film takes place. Unfortunately, it’s in this section that character dynamics and emotion take a back seat as the film races hurriedly through scene after scene. It doesn’t quite know when to stop and take its time with some terrifically crucial elements, specifically the warped relationship between Cobb and his wife (Marion Cotillard). Still, Nolan has provided his most visually stunning picture thus far and reaffirms his status as one of the most imaginative and unique voices working today. There’s plenty of intellectually stimulating material to sift through in “Inception” as Nolan returns to the subject of reality versus perception. If one is so inclined, it could also be seen as a grandiose metaphor for the act of artistic creation itself.

I, for one, greatly appreciated Nolan’s decision to place all the big action set pieces within the confines of the various dream worlds, resulting in an interesting metaphor for the cinema as our collected dream world and our habitual penchant for getting lost in it.

In the end, the film doesn’t quite feel the masterpiece many were hoping for, though I have a feeling that it’s a film you need to see at least twice. However, the quality and scope of Nolan’s vision is so above and beyond most anything else out there that it’s worth the ticket price alone.

“Inception” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.

-Michael Shymon just finished his freshman year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where he's studying Film & Television Production. He's hoping one day all this movie watching will finally pay off. While he's home for summer break in San Diego, he'll be resuming his duties as a KPBS Teen Critic.

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