MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Inception’ a marvelously challenging mindbender

What if someone could break into your dreams and take over your thoughts?

That’s the premise of the “Inception,” a smart and often spectacular new sci-fi psycho-drama starring Leonardi DiCaprio as a specially trained corporate-espionage hacker with a knack for sneaking into someone’s sleeping mind---and then stealing their deepest, most guarded secrets.

This surreptitious skill set has made DiCaprio’s character, Dom Cobb, a valuable, outside-the-law asset to companies who use him for snoop-n-scoop missions into rivals’ nappin’ noggins for compromising information too valuable to trust to a vault or computer drive. But Cobb’s gifts have also made him a fugitive, on the run for the death of his wife after one of his head trips took a tragic turn.

The movie kicks into gear early, as Cobb is presented with a daunting challenge by a wealthy Japanese tycoon: Get into a rival industrial’s dreams, then plant an idea there that will blossom into waking reality. That’s a particularly tricky, experimental-stage feat called “inception,” and if Cobb and his team of mind burglars can pull it off, he’ll get a clean slate and be able to return to a normal life again.

But we discover that Cobb has a deep secret of his own, one that keeps popping up in his subconscious with the potential to sabotage everything.

London-born writer-director Christopher Nolan certainly knows his way around a brainy thriller. His 2000 “Memento” was a murder-mystery mini-masterpiece that unfolded backward, like a story read from end to beginning. In 2008 he dazzled fans and critics alike with “The Dark Knight,” widely regarded as the meatiest and most masterful of the Batman movies.

Nolan worked on the idea for “Inception” for most of a decade, and it shows. It’s a rare must-see summer movie with brains to match its brawn and its budget.

But it would be even more dazzling if the story at its core weren’t essentially a rather conventional heist caper with car chases and booming gunfire, albeit one played out in the crazy theater of the mind. And it’s a movie that requires you to keep up, pay attention and stay focused. “So….who’s subconscious are we in?” asks a greenhorn Cobb recruit, played by Ellen Page, about midway through. She could very well be speaking for the audience.

But you, like her, will likely find yourself swept up and carried away into Nolan’s meticulous mental movie maze, in which time can be slowed down to the point of near suspension and people dream in different, ever deepening layers, dreams within dreams. As Cobb knows, you can get lost in there…and possibly never come back.

And the ending will have you leaving the theater scrambling to process what you’ve just seen---and what you haven’t.

Are our thoughts really as secret as we’d like to believe? Can dreams become reality? What’s real, and what’s imagination? This is one marvelously challenging mindbender of a movie that truly gets into your head.

—Neil Pond, American Profile