Inception – Review

Worth seeing: if you like highly imaginative and visually stunning cinema, regardless of whether it's cliched or contrived and emotionally unengaging
Director:Christopher Nolan
Featuring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Lukas Haas, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, Tom Berenger, Tom Hardy
Length:148 minutes
Country:UK, US
Released:16th July 2010


Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a gift all big businesses want – bosses hire him to steal secrets from their rivals by hijacking their dreams to delve into their subconscious. Over the years, the technique has brought him professional success – but along with it has come personal pain.

It’s resulted in him being exiled from the US – unable to return, for fear of being jailed – but he misses his children and he’s desperate to see them again.

Japanese tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a deal that can give him his life back; Saito can get the charges dropped – but in return, Cobb has to do something many believe is impossible; rather than steal secrets, Saito wants an idea planted in his business rival’s mind – an untried technique known as inception.

Saito’s nemesis Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite) is on his death bed and the only way he can think of to retain a dominant position in the market is to get Fischer’s son Robert (Cillian Murphy) to break up the empire he inherits. Cobb has to go deep inside Robert’s mind to make him think he’s come up with the idea himself.

For this, Cobb has to pull together a team to join him in Robert’s dreams – including his colleague Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former colleague Eames (Tom Hardy), an architect to design the dreamscapes (Ellen Page) and a chemist (Dileep Rao) to keep them all asleep long enough to carry off the cerebral heist.


Christopher Nolan has lived up to expectations, delivering a thrilling action adventure like no other – both visually and thematically.

But from the point of view of plot and character, the film is more of a nightmare than a dream.

The dreams within dreams within dreams make it feel a little like watching someone playing a multi-level computer game and it all becomes tremendously complicated to keep track of. This complexity feels rather gratuitous – the emperor’s new clothes spring to mind.

Nolan seems to be making it as complicated as he can get away with, so that viewers will pretend to understand it rather than acknowledge that they’re not as bright as him. He’s showing off. But whereas his visual tricks – such as folding over cities and floating fight scenes – are worthy of praise, the story at its heart is not. To quote Steve Martin in LA Story, showing off is the idiot’s way of being interesting, which is a shame, because Christopher Nolan is not an idiot and should not need to show off to impress us.

The film fails to grab us emotionally. We don’t really care that much whether he sees his children – and if he can’t see them back home, couldn’t he fly them out to visit him wherever he’s living? There are inconsistencies in his recollections of his late wife. And is he even the best at what he does? After all, he’s hired for this ground-breaking heist after failing in his previous mission.

Perhaps the most disappointing elements are Nolan’s adoption of some of the most archetypal cinematic clichés – to carry out his final job, our troubled, omni-present hero has to round up a brand new top team, surrounding himself with largely insignificant and forgettable supporting characters, each equipped with a skill that will contribute to the overall picture.

In this sense, it aspires to be like many other heist films – but usually, the dummy runs and training sessions lead up to a spectacular finale, while here, it’s actually the training where you’ll find many of the most thrilling and visually arresting moments, making Inception film feel rather anti-climactic.

Similarly, the theft of secrets, that we see earlier in the film, is more interesting, cinematically, than the inception of an idea – and not a particularly imaginative idea at that. And one might feel that the easiest way to put an idea in someone’s head is just to suggest it to them a few times – the film does address this, but not as convincingly as it needs to.

A twist that explains Cobb’s predicament falls flat, debunking, somewhat, the main premise of the film itself, and the denouement is a rather unsatisfying moment which leaves you wondering whether it’s all a dream – which in a film about dreams, should probably be answered more explicitly. It’s all too easy for a film-maker just to throw his hands in the air and say “It’s a dream” when he can’t work out how to make it fit together.

All that said, if you’re happy to watch a film whose complexity is contrived, whose characters are clichés and whose emotions are empty – and let’s face it, many cinemagoers are – the visuals will blow your mind and if you’re OK with not getting coherent answers to all your questions, trying to decode the logic will certainly provide some cerebral entertainment.

As ambitious as he is arrogant, Nolan has given us a film that has pretensions to being a highly intelligent summer blockbuster – and goes some way towards that, undoubtedly looking spectacular on Imax – but it’s unlikely to fare well come awards season, unless Nolan can send Leonardo DiCaprio into everyone’s dreams to plant the idea that it’s worthy of a statuette.