Following is a masterful labyrinth of a film. It is also his first feature, and a trend-setter for his later films. Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and of course The Dark Knight (2008) are his repertoire. An oeuvre of epic proportions. Each film is a mind-bending look into our fears. That we committed our worst crime, that we become the villain we so desperately try to take down. Inception is no exception.
Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best extractor in the field. He can enter a person's dream and steal their most valued ideas, thoughts and secrets. Lately he's been performing corporate espionage, stealing people's thoughts for a profit. But he is running from his past, trying to escape the accusations of murder, all the while hoping to find a way home. His most recent client, Saito (Ken Wantanabe) has the answer: If Cobb can do the opposite of his job and plant the idea in the son of Saito's business enemy to break up his father's business, Saito will make some calls allowing Cobb to return to America.
To plant an idea, one must enter into the deep subconscious of one's mind (here being a dream within a dream within a dream). This is where Nolan provides the brunt of the suspense in the film. In order to get out of a dream you need what's called a kick (essentially free fall in the real world) so that you are ripped out of your dream. In order to get out of the dreams within dreams, you need to have a kick in the first dream world. And in order to get out of the dreams within those dreams within dreams, you need a kick in the second dream world. The question is, can the characters achieve all their goals before the kicks occur? Each level of dreams is twenty times faster than the level before it, so that if you're asleep for 1 minute, your dream world is twenty minutes long, and the dream level before that is seven hours long etc., which gives the actors plenty of time, as long as they are deep in the subconscious.
The film is entirely comprehensible, and fully engaging. The characters literally make the movie-goer excited for what's happening and what's about to happen. And of course, we're never let down. Each dream level is fascinating and enthralling, mesmerizing and beautiful, dangerous and scary. Nolan keeps the characters as entertained as the audience, throwing them into the worlds of dreams, where anything could happen next. It is hard to find fault with the cinematography, the CG or the sets. It's nothing new, but it retains a certain air of appeal.
With a lineup of actors as good as this, it is surprising to find that none really blew the ship out of the water. DiCaprio was alright, giving a Shutter Island (Scorsese, 2010) performance (without the accent), Ellen Paige was good, but nothing extraordinary. Ken Wantanabe Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy all did admirably, yet they weren't as prominent of characters and therefore didn't have much billing time. Marion Cotillard may never live up to her Edith Paif portrayal, while Tom Berenger and Michael Caine had such small roles, it was hard to tell if they did well or not.
While the story was astoundingly complex and layered, with conflicts up the wazoo, there was little there. What you see is what you get with this film. There's little deep to talk about, since the deepest part of the human conscious is materialized, something that isn't quite possible. As soon as we see that to be trapped in the mind is as simple as building your own worlds, we lose all wonder and astonishment. The mystery of the mind is simplified too far for the film to have anything worth discussing afterward.