Surprise doesn’t happen very often – especially in the world of movies. Even if Hollywood didn’t largely deal in utter predictability these days, it’d still be relatively easy to work out the rough pattern of a particular film from the trailers, the story synopsis and various articles (as in Avatar – where it wasn’t so much that the story itself was bad, it was just so painfully predictable in terms of serving up every single story beat I expected). As a result of this, the level of secrecy around Christopher Nolan’s Inception has been extremely nice – the initial trailers gave away very little, the first description – “A thriller set in the architecture of the mind” – was all the plot information we had for a long time, and even when more details started appearing over the last couple of months, it was pretty sketchy.
This is certainly the point where I’d normally say fear the spoilers – but you don’t have to, as I’m not spoiling. I might post something once I’ve seen the film a second time (which I’m definitely going to be), but one of the nicest things about Inception was going in and not knowing exactly what I was getting. Hell, even when I went into The Matrix, most of the surprise had already been blown, and it was more admiring the style of it than the actual twists. With Inception, I’d done my best to steer clear of any detailed reviews – and I’m extremely glad I did, as the trailers have held an awful lot back, and if you haven’t already been spoiled for any surprises, avoid them like the plague – this is something that’s worth the effort. Those who don’t like Christopher Nolan films or have problems with his filmmaking style certainly aren’t going to change their minds with this – Inception is absolutely the work of the same man who made The Dark Knight, and while the story isn’t quite as sprawling, it’s still got the same steely intensity, the same energy, the same kind of straight-faced grimness. But the joy of Inception (at least for me) was the discovery, and the sheer energy that Nolan throws into constructing worlds and situations, and escalating action sequence on top of action sequence.
What I can say is that Inception is absolutely a heist movie – it plays like a cross between Nolan’s backwards classic Memento, Philip K. Dick’s work, The Matrix, Oceans 11, and a Bond film. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to throw a gigantic amount of exposition at you – there are lots of rules to the world Nolan sets up, and we need to understand all of them before the story truly kicks off. This does mean that there are chunks of the first hour which do occasionally feel a little stodgy (not helped by a slightly eccentric performance from Japanese actor Ken Watanbe) – and it’s also got to be said that away from the excellently drawn central relationship that the film is based around, characterisation isn’t exactly a priority. As with quite a few other heist movies, the support characters are somewhat stripped down in order to serve the plot (especially in the case of Ellen Page’s character, who really isn’t much more than an audience identification character). But in other ways, stripping down the characterisation serves other purposes – especially since Inception is such a gigantically crowded film already, there’s barely the room to go any further with the rest of the cast.
The best way of looking at Inception is in the same way as The Matrix – that when you peel back the layers, what you have is a really well told but very traditional action movie, and Inception is a spectacularly ambitious heist movie that goes in some unbelievably layered and complicated directions, but still maintains the clarity of its main story. I really need to see it again to work out exactly how much I like it – mainstream Hollywood cinema is in such a weak state right now, it’s easy to come out of a film like Inception thinking you’ve just seen the best film ever. Inception isn’t that – it isn’t perfect, it isn’t a masterpiece, but it is the kind of ballsy, ambitious film I was hoping that Nolan would attempt in the wake of The Dark Knight’s success. There are sequences in Inception that are simply gobsmacking, and it’s nice to know that cinema is still capable of truly transporting me. I had high hopes for Inception – and I’m very glad not to be let down. Above everything, it’s a cinematic experience to be savoured, and if you love ambitious and adventurous films that are prepared to make you think and demand your attention, then make sure you see Inception, and see it on the biggest screen you can possibly find. It’s well worth the trip…