Inception (***1/2)

By Dwight Brown NNPA Film Critic

“The seed we plant in this man’s mind will come to define him.”

Deep sleep leaves us all vulnerable. That weakened altered subconscious state is where Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a thought thief, does his dirty work. He insinuates himself into the dreams of CEOs, extracting secrets, committing new age corporate espionage. Not all his extractions have been perfect; in fact one has made his wife (Marion Cotillard) a casualty.

Cobb draws the line at planting ideas in people’s heads. That’s called “Inception.” He reverses his decision after he is approached by Saito (Ken Wantanabe), a sinister, devious businessman who for selfish reasons wants him to incept the mind of a rich heir. In return, Saito offers Cobb redemption. Cobb enlists his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a college student (Ellen Page, “Juno”) and a sordid crew (Tom Hardy “RockNRolla”, Dileep Rao “Avatar”) to pull off the ultimate scheme.

Director/writer Christopher Nolan conceived the premise for the film 10 years ago when he was first fascinated with blending waking life with dreams and the ability to corrupt dreams. His resulting screenplay has a complex, hard-to-follow, story-within-a-story, dream-on-top-of-dream plotline that might test the patience of the casual viewer. But stick with it; all the head-scratching antics lead to an intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling finale.

Nolan’s eclectic, fine-tuned blend of action and art was firmly established with his signature Batman film, “The Dark Knight;” arguably the best action film made in the last two decades. Scenes of Cobb running from assailants in the streets of Mumbai are every bit as exciting as those in “The Bourne Identity.” A sequence in a hotel hallway that is set on an angle with Arthur and an attacker fighting in zero gravity is stunning. Visuals of buildings and neighborhoods reflecting each other, and then landing on top of each other are spectacular. Nolan’s extraordinary direction is aided perfectly by cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Lee Smith, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin and stunt coordinator Tom Struthers who were all part of “The Dark Knight” technical team.

Using an angst-worn protagonist to give the sci-fi laden, techno-heavy story a personal feel was smart. It was even smarter to cast the ever-passionate DiCaprio in the pivotal lead role. Although, a sharp agent might encourage him to skip the overpowering real-or-not-real themed film genre (“Shutter Island” opened just months ago) and take a roll in a simple drama where viewers could focus primarily on his acting (e.g. “Basketball Diaries”). Wantanabe, Gordon-Levitt, Cotillard and Page give solid supporting performances, but DiCaprio’s emoting drives this movie, albeit under a cloud of visual theatrics.

Countless, empty-headed blockbusters have paraded across movie screens this summer. It’s refreshing to experience an always-tense, extremely suspenseful sci-fi action film that respects a viewer’s intelligence.