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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Marion Cotillard
Ellen Page
Cillian Murphy
Michael Caine
Ken Watanabe
Tom Hardy
Tom Berenger.
Directors
Christopher Nolan.
Screenwriters
Christopher Nolan.
Running Time
145 minutes

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Inception
Christopher Nolan’s exquisite equation of dreams and death... and shit blowing up


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Plot
Corporate spy-for-hire Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) steals ideas in dreams, but then he's hired to achieve the impossible: "inception" - planting an idea in the mind of a target. If he succeeds, he can see his estranged children. If he fails, he'll be trapped forever.


Review
Inception
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If you know nothing else about Inception, at least know this: it is not a trick. It is ingenious but not crafty, knotty but not duplicitous. It has neither Memento’s method conceit nor the smoke and mirrors of The Prestige. To contrast it with the latter, in particular (fine film though that is), is to appreciate the difference between stage-magic and a real miracle.

The director-as-magician analogy feels least tired when applied to Christopher Nolan, given his body of work, its formal and mental layers and precisely engineered reveals. At best, this approach can be exhilarating. At worst — as with the narrative drip-feed of Insomnia, his weakest picture — it is obfuscation masquerading as artistry, aka not half as bloody clever as it thinks it is. Given its setting is largely the subconscious, though, Inception can’t work with a rug-pull denouement. Every scene — let alone the movie — could be punctured with that postscript beloved of primary school story scribblers: “And I woke up and it was only a dream...” So, don’t brace for a “ta-dah!” moment — it will impede your enjoyment and waste your time. Instead, marvel at the effrontery of a filmmaker who asks you to emotionally invest in avowed mental constructs — and succeeds. In one sense, admittedly, this is what every filmmaker asks us to do: engross ourselves in their imagination. The movie, then, could be interpreted as being about craft and inspiration — one character even says, of constructing the architecture of dreams, “It’s just... pure creation.”

But there are bigger things in play here than simply Art, and Nolan isn’t given to self-referential indulgence. This is about life and death and what might be beyond and between. It is also about blazing gun battles, zero-gravity fist fights and stars you’d like to sleep with. Fret not, Batfans — Nolan hasn’t turned into Andrei Tarkovsky. The muscular action that distinguished his Bruce Wayne pictures is again in evidence, but whereas Gotham in the Nolanverse is bound by at least some constraints — you know, little things like physics — here all bets are off. It’s not that Inception doesn’t have rules: like any convincing science-fiction, it has rules and boundaries it will not break. But those boundaries are pretty broad — they are the limits of each character’s imagination. The images deserve to be untarnished by much explanation — you should see them for yourself and on the biggest screen you can (it’s coming to IMAX — book now) to best appreciate Wally Pfister’s excellent, expansive photography. Funny, though, how moments that make the memory boggle when you recall them pass naturally in the moment because you are rooted in the world Nolan has created, in the reality(s) of the characters. This is testament to the physical prowess of the production and thorough thought that’s created this world, but also to the actors.

Some rise to particularly fascinating challenges (hello, Tom Berenger) and some surprise — principally Cillian Murphy, who can do danger and insolence in his sleep, but here shows a tenderness and vulnerability crucial to the story. Others exert a personality and appeal on parts that on the page would have played very close to ‘types’ — particularly Ellen Page, exuding a prim sexiness as, really, Basil Exposition, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who somehow manages to appear both ambiguous and dependable as essentially a sidekick. The pair share one of the movie’s best comic beats, too, though most of the sly laughs come from Tom Hardy’s roguish Eames.

It will be fascinating to read the hypotheses that percolate about Inception after release and no doubt what characters are called will be explored. That Page is Ariadne — the name of a figure in Greek myth who guides a hero from a maze — has already been noted. Eames shares his name with seminal designers/architects Charles and Ray, who made a celebrated short film, Powers Of 10, about the magnitude of the universe. Marion Cotillard is Cobb’s wife, Mal — which means “bad”, but can also derive from the Hebrew for messenger or angel. Cobb itself comes from Jacob, who, when fleeing from his murderous brother in the biblical book Genesis, dreamt of a ladder to heaven...

Based on his previous behaviour, Nolan isn’t likely to explain what he thinks Inception is actually about, but it’s certainly possible to see it as a blockbuster allegory about grief, faith and the desire for an afterlife — to be reunited with those we love and have lost (those with even a passing knowledge of Catholicism may note an interesting use of the word ‘limbo’). You could argue it’s about suicide and the fears and hopes that can both power and prevent it (for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?), just as was Soderbergh’s Solaris. Nolan, though, doesn’t muse; he motors. This is no sombre meditation. The themes are there to be explored (there will be more theories about this movie than about the killing of JFK), but you can just as well sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

And what a spectacle.

In terms of scale and style it is, as Nolan intended, comparable to Bond’s best excursions — yet filtered through a brain-frying, subconscious-spelunking, time-dilating structure that boldly frames action sequences around each other. So we get an explosive Arctic mountain vault-storming within a zero-gravity scramble within a vehicle-crunching chase. In effect, the set-pieces are simultaneous. Which is insane, but brilliant as, while he at times boggles through the necessarily complex editing, Nolan never corrupts his multiverse’s internal logic.

When you’re not basking in the visuals, you can always lean into DiCaprio and appreciate the emotion. He anchors everything. An actor who has long borne the blessing and the burden of being hailed a genius before he was even a man, he has never been less than good, but can appear either callow or try-hard, like a child dressing in daddy’s suit. Not here. He shows a depth of feeling rivalled only by his work in Shutter Island. To deliver two such turns in a career would be impressive. In a year, it’s just showing off. What makes it work, really, though, is how unfussy he is, how unselfish — there’s no showboating. Good as he is in The Departed or Gangs Of New York, you could sometimes feel the Weight of his Acting. Here, paradoxically, he appears effortless, even though he’s the beam on which the whole mighty edifice rests. It’s because you believe his journey, his heart, that you buy into Inception. If he failed, so would the movie. This isn’t the sort of performance that usually wins Oscars — it’s not ostentatious or superficially transformative, but by God it is brilliant. The strength of it is that you remain emotionally engaged, even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. The third act makes Memento seem about as complex as Bear In The Big Blue House. And while there is remarkable clarity given the complexity, you are pummelled with information and have to keep up — pay attention, figure it out.

Only repeat viewing will reveal if this comparison is truly justified, but it feels like Stanley Kubrick adapting the work of the great sci-fi author William Gibson (Neuromancer) — except Nolan appears to like people more than the 2001 auteur. So, you have a film that embraces intellect and emotion but also sheer entertainment — that can include a character staring at what looks like one of Francis Bacon’s tortured self-portraits, but also has the best EXPLODEY BUILDING sequence since Zabriskie Point. That film was a notorious bomb, ignored by audiences and pilloried by critics. And some, who may find Inception exposition-heavy and bewildering, will no doubt argue that, drunk on the freedom of The Dark Knight, Nolan has spent $170 million disappearing up his own arse. He hasn’t. On this form, wherever he goes next, be it Batman 3 or something else, we’ll be the first in line to follow.


Verdict
Like The Matrix mated with Synecdoche, New York — or a Charlie Kaufman 007. To paraphrase Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd, it’s a meaningful pursuit in a summer of disposable entertainments. With physics-defying, thunderous action, heart-wringing emotion and an astonishing performance from DiCaprio, Nolan delivers another true original: welcome to an undiscovered country.


Reviewed by Nev Pierce


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Inception
Empire Star Rating

Jaw-dropping

A brilliant and visionary masterpiece from Christopher Nolan, right up there with Memento and The Dark Knight. The cast are all excellent, but Dicaprio is just incredible; you look in those eyes and you see every ounce of his emotional pain and anguish, not to mention the look of a much older man (since that's what his character technically is). Overall, this is an amazing and exhilarating cinematic experience, what movies were made for. Simply one of the greatest blockbusters of our time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 17:32, 12 April 2013 | Report This Post


Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime

An intelligently crafted mind-bender, featuring some of the coolest set pieces in recent memory, Christopher Nolan's Inception is an awesome blend of smart, bravely original entertainment and mind-blowing special effects. Enjoy. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 16:55, 24 December 2012 | Report This Post


Thank you Mr. Nolan

Hardy/Levitt were my favorite parts, and as a random side note I'd like to point out with the most famous line, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger darling", the "darling" bit was entirely Hardy's ad-libb which Nolan just left in - brilliance! Anyway, altogether a fantastic and excessively enjoyable film - glad to see real movies are still being made. Thank you Mr. Nolan. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ekohlle at 22:59, 26 June 2012 | Report This Post


pretencious wankers will lap it up ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 02:34, 10 May 2012 | Report This Post


pretencious wankers will lap it up ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 02:33, 10 May 2012 | Report This Post


Inception Review

Smart, innovative, and thrilling, Inception is that rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually. Not only was Inception my best film of 2010 it is my best film period. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 21:51, 06 March 2012 | Report This Post


Wow!

Just.. Incredible! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mikeyglenning at 17:22, 19 February 2012 | Report This Post


Inception.

I got huge recpect for nolan, levit, dicaprio, hardy and Ellen page right now. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by antosh25 at 04:30, 05 December 2011 | Report This Post


CLASSIC

How do you follow up from The Dark Knight? Well Christopher Nolan has managed to do just that, Inception is dare I say better than the Dark Knight, which wowed audiences and critics alike in 08' Heath Ledgers performance was what most people payed attention too. It's hard not too. The Dark Knight had an ingenious opening scene, a robbery in which all the robbers turn on each other blasting bullets everywhere and even causing a bus too smash through the front door of the bank, it's a shame a... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lewisb548 at 19:30, 02 December 2011 | Report This Post


An intelligent film at last. I liked it a lot, but the characters left me cold. For me that is more important than a clever script. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SpeedSailor at 16:29, 20 November 2011 | Report This Post


more plot holes than a film with lots of plot holes ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 15:43, 17 October 2011 | Report This Post


LOVE IT IN BITES ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ciaran McDaid at 00:21, 16 October 2011 | Report This Post


A little bit special,

Need I say more? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dezeze at 15:30, 17 July 2011 | Report This Post


Perfect movie

The best movie of 2010. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shady_88 at 12:24, 15 July 2011 | Report This Post


Style and Substance

Its complexity is a weakness not a strength. Its lack of exposition and it being subject to intepretation make the film well,,, almost meaningless. Almost. Yet to discount this film's concept as anything other than genius is incorrect. It is excellant as a masterclass of style and substance. At heart this isnt rocket science and is easy enough to follow on first watch but not necessarily easily enough to understand. It is a film that the more you look into it the more complex it becomes. Anywho,... More

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Posted by trainedasninja at 21:24, 12 June 2011 | Report This Post


Much like when Leonardo Da Vinci unveiled 'The Mona Lisa', the world was shocked, they had no idea how this man had created this stunning picture, a picture so beautiful and intricate it was almost impossible to believe how one man had created this using his mind, well , this is what Nolan has done here. He has created a film, which will live on, for decades and decades, as a masterpiece. It is best to view Inception, when you know as little about it as possible, because you need to realise th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by scottpilgrim95 at 23:09, 01 May 2011 | Report This Post


It's not an intelligent film it's a dumb blockbuster = INCEPTION IS CONVOULOUTED

My biggest problem is when people say you're not smart enought to understand it, it's an intelligent storytelling. IT AINT i don't know what films u usually watch but it AINT SMART Memento was, I don't have a Nolan issue, I think Intelligent means it makes sense not it has to be needlessly complicated and overwrought ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Senton at 13:41, 02 April 2011 | Report This Post


Inception

What can i say. This is a phenomenal film!!! and i genuinely mean that. Christopher Nolan just keeps on getting better. however, before, i thought Nolan movies were slightly overrated with the particular likes of Mememto and the dark knight, they were good movies but not exceptional in my opinion. Whereas inception blew me away in terms of the action, the well constructed story telling as well as the idea of dream invasion and the 'deam within a dream' which i thought was genius and intriguing ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Harri Singh at 17:47, 07 March 2011 | Report This Post


Amaizing

This is by far my favourite film of all time and Christopher Nolan has done it again. ... More

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Posted by the film man at 11:20, 06 March 2011 | Report This Post


NOLAN JUST GETS BETTER

Wthout doubt the best blockbuster since the Dark Knight ... More

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Posted by bobbyperu at 19:40, 24 February 2011 | Report This Post


Inception Blu Ray

Just watched it on BD and can't ever remember seeing a more perfect film visually. Whilst it is extremely complex in areas such as how the detail contained within your subconscious mind is diluted through 3 layers to your conscious self I have to say that I do think it is a tour de force of original film making and sets a new watermark for intelligent blockbusters. And Empire your damn right it is as emotional as hell in no small part due to Hans Zimmer's wonderful score particularly at the movi... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Maca007 at 21:39, 07 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Really wanna see it NOW

The story can be told for certain phrases, or did not say anything. Here is a film about the immune spoilers: If you knew how it ended, telling you nothing if you do not know how it got there. ... More

Posted by jackamla at 11:51, 03 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

The story can be told for certain phrases, or did not say anything. Here is a film about the immune spoilers: If you knew how it ended, telling you nothing if you do not know how it got there. ... More

Posted by jackamla at 11:50, 03 February 2011 | Report This Post


EXCELLANT NOT EXCEPTIONAL

Very good blockbuster.Don't really kno why most folk are confused by it,seemed pretty straight 4ward 2me.I thought how 'it was done' more interestin than how 'the plot worked',could actually see the end coming from the start.But that didnt detract too much from the experience,and to me that shows how good the film is as entertainment,yes it did get the synapses going but not too much.Inceptionally executed but did not leave an Inception in my subconcious. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Snake 4Skin at 04:43, 30 January 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Inception

Sorry for the duplicate post. Seems like the forum is playing up. Just watched a bit of the South Park parody. They summed it up perfectly 'it's so complex it's cool.' Couldn't have said it better myself. ... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 17:54, 16 January 2011 | Report This Post


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