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CASEY PHILLIPS: When a director's last project is the third-highest-grossing film of all time, he might be tempted to turn his next film into a special-effects-laden blockbuster while neglecting the crucial element of storytelling. Not so "The Dark Knight" director/writer Christopher Nolan.

"Inception's" special-effects budget was clearly more than generous, but it's used effectively to tell an emotionally and philosophically charged story of love and loss that turns the caper-film archetype on its head. "Inception" will draw comparisons to "The Matrix" thanks to ultra-chic costuming, reality-bending plot and an abundance of slow-motion scenes, but the twisted, chronologically disjointed plot is more reminiscent of Nolan's 2000 thriller, "Memento."

The film occasionally drags, thanks to the need to explain the complex system of laws governing the central concept of dream theft, and it neglects to provide motivation for its supporting characters (i.e., anyone other than Leonardo DiCaprio). In general, however, it's a delightful head trip.

HOLLY LEBER: It's easy to feel simultaneously brilliant and moronic watching a film like "Inception."

You try to stay two steps ahead of the action, and you do, but then there's a twist that calls everything into question. It all seems so obvious, and it is, but is it? By this token, "Inception" will also call to mind DiCaprio's last film, "Shutter Island.

Casey, you're correct in that the motivation of any character other than DiCaprio to dream-invade is not explained. I have to wonder, though, if that's more intentional and unexplained than it is negligent. The attention to detail is so intense, it appears Nolan knew exactly what he was doing within each frame. Of course, as the movie reminds us, things aren't always as they seem.

On the visual note, the cinematography by frequent Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister is stunning, as is the work of a team of nine art directors.

CASEY: Yet at times, "Inception" is more straightforward than might be expected of a film about invading dreams since the "gee whiz" set-piece moments like Paris folding on top of itself are relatively infrequent. That's not a mark against it, though, since the story is so engrossing that too many over-the-top moments would have detracted from moving the plot forward, further bloating the 2 1/2-hour run time.

HOLLY: It really didn't feel too long though, thanks to an engrossing, if imperfect plot, and an excellent cast. The chemistry between Marion Cotillard and DiCaprio, however, was lacking - somewhat disappointing considering the caliber of both actors. Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both talented and somewhat unexpected here, brought a stronger sense of connection.

CASEY: "Inception" may be too deep for just one viewing to suffice, but this is one rabbit hole I'll be happy to dive down again.

HOLLY: OK, Alice.

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