The "it's only a dream" plot twist has been done to death, but here comes Dark Knight auteur Christopher Nolan with a fresh take. The movie is Inception and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a -- what exactly? He could be a special agent of the mind, able to hack into your dreams Matrix-style and abscond with your deepest secrets. Or maybe that's what he was, before he got trapped in his own never-ending nightmare. One of the joys of Inception is that it's sure to evoke more film-geek theorizing than any movie in years.
I could sit here and try to explain to you what happens in Inception, but I fear I'd sound like a loon. Here are a few basics: DiCaprio leads a team of, um, dream warriors (I guess), criminals for hire by huge multinational corporations for some next-level industrial espionage. Leo and his crew are able to participate in the dreams of their targets and trick them into giving up the lifeblood of the company. This is called "extraction," but what if instead of stealing info you could plant ideas, making people think they thought it all up themselves? Talk about a powerful weapon.
This proves to be a potent sci-fi plot kernel. I'd have to watch it again, but I thought the internal logic of Inception hung together remarkably well considering this is a movie where the very fabric of reality can be altered by an enterprising "architect." The film is loaded with cool ideas, stunning visuals and high-testosterone action, a mix that has been sadly absent from the multiplex this summer. Despite the obvious quality of the film, I just don't see Inception ending up a blockbuster-sized hit; it's too damn cerebral. Yes, the critics are drooling over it (I found it completely engrossing and wished I could watch it again as soon as it was over), but we eggheads enjoy a hardcore intellectual challenge. Will double-dating teenagers take to the Twitter and spew that all-important positive word of mouth? Doubtful.
That said, Inception is the best movie of the summer not named Toy Story 3. Christopher Nolan seems to get better as a director with each film he makes (the gulf between Inception and his Al Pacino/Robin Williams misfire Insomnia is striking), and here he takes the visual thrill of The Dark Knight's high-contrast cityscapes and chase scenes and marries them to the labyrinthine plotting of Memento. Drawing inspiration from Kubrick, The Wachowski Brothers and cyberpunk, Nolan produces something that seems fresh and new.
Leonardo DiCaprio continues his run of interesting roles that undercut his matinee idol good looks. Much like in Shutter Island, the actor plays a hero who may be completely unworthy of the audience's trust, but he's so damn charismatic you can't help but go along with him anyway. Besides DiCaprio, Inception is chock full of supporting performances that shine, not least of which are Juno's Ellen Page and (500) Days of Summer's Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (The pair shares the summer's funniest kiss.) Living legend Michael Caine (The Dark Knight's Alfred) is given comparatively little to do, but fellow oldster Tom Berenger (Platoon) makes a welcome A-list reappearance after years of toiling in B movie sequels like Sniper 2, Major League 2 and Smokin' Aces 2.
Finally, about that last shot: I have no idea either.
Hear more about Inception, Cyrus, Despicable Me and more on this week's Reel Projections Podcast -- up Friday at dailyloafblog.com.