Done on a break between "Batman" movies, "Inception" is the latest thriller from director Christopher Nolan, and the picture is another mind-bender in the realm of Nolan's "Momento" and "Insomnia". Or, to look at it from a different perspective, the picture is a somber, sleek, more complex update of some of the concepts that seemed sort of ahead of their time in Kathryn Bigelow's rugged 1995 sci-film, "Strange Days". "Inception" stars Leonardo Dicaprio as Dom, a high-tech thief able to go into the minds of others during their dream state, in order to extract secrets. He's joined by his co-worker, Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), chemist Yusef (Dileep Rao), impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy) and architect Ariadne (Ellen Page).
After a job involving corporate magnate Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes awry, Saito returns with an offer: if he and his team can go through with the difficult task of implanting a thought in someone's mind - inception - rather than outright theft. The reward for Dom is immense: wiping his previous crimes clean so that he can return to the US and see his children again. After assembling team members both new and old, he goes about trying to hook the target: Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), who has just inherited the corporation built by his father (Pete Posthelthwaite).
The first half of the picture offers the build-up, with an involving discussion of the planning - including trying to implant an idea within deeper dream levels (a dream within a dream within...) - and a few remarkable visual effects sequences, such as Ariadne's first introduction to the dream sequences. The second half of the film, which sees the group trying to pull off the plan in mid-air, is a dazzling decent into the mind of the subject. To make matters worse, the team soon realizes that the stakes have been raised once they find themselves within the dream space - and that it won't be so easy to depart it. As they go deeper and deeper, the dream state becomes more and more fragile, and the world of the dream can be effected in unusual ways.
Writer/director Nolan's script certainly demands the attention (at least with DVD, if you have to go to your own personal snack bar, there's the pause button), but the picture is not as complex as it has been promoted to be, as Nolan has done an excellent job boiling the screenplay down to the core concepts and storyline rather than heaping on unnecessary complexity. In other words, it's satisfying and complex and riveting throughout, it's not gimmicky and twisty so that it can sell itself on that. The screenplay also does an exceptional job providing little doses of information about the main character, which adds depth to the character and additional layers to the story.
The performances are uniformly marvelous, especially DiCaprio, who delivers a powerful, emotional performance as the haunted Dom. Page (in what I think might be her best effort), Hardy, Levitt, Watanabe and others also give first-rate supporting efforts. Earlier this year, "South Park" parodied "Inception", and the episode was one of the lesser episodes of the season. Possibly because there's not much - aside from "Park"'s amusing running gag riffing on Hans Zimmer's score - to work with. "Inception" is grand, intelligent entertainment, and stands as one of the best films I've seen in the last few years.
VIDEO: The Blu-Ray is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p) by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The transfer is not without some concerns, but was mostly a terrific effort from the studio. Sharpness and detail were generally superb, with only a few minor instances of softness here-and-there. The Blu-Ray is an improvement upon the DVD presentation, which looked mildly softer and showed some occasional instances of pixelation and a couple of moments of edge enhancement. The Blu-Ray, on the other hand, appeared smoother and cleaner, with no pixelation and only a bit of edge enhancement. Colors looked bold and rich on both presentations, but appeared a bit more cleanly presented on the Blu-Ray edition.
SOUND: The Blu-Ray presentation boasts a tremendously enjoyable DTS-HD 5.1 presentation, which delivered the film's outstanding sound mix with precision and impressive clarity. Surrounds were heavily employed and to wonderful effect during a number of sequences for gunfire and all manner of effects, especially during the second half of the picture. Audio quality is terrific, as the score sounds dynamic and powerful, while effects seemed punchy and dialogue well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Not much, but in a way that's okay; we get four short featurettes that venture into various aspects of the production. All-in-all, they last about 11 minutes.
Final Thoughts: "Inception" is grand, intelligent entertainment, and stands as one of the best films I've seen in the last few years. The Blu-Ray presentation offers solid audio/video quality that improves upon the DVD's presentation. Extras are limited, but the movie is best without oodles of explanation. Recommended.
The Film A