SF elements: going into dreams
Cobb [diCaprio] is a dream thief, the best. He goes into people's dreams and steals important information: safe combinations, industrial secrets, whatever. After a failed attempt at extracting secrets from Saito, Saito makes him an offer he can't refuse to perform an inception : to plant a thought in someone through their dreams. This requires manipulating dreams within dreams within dreams, where most of the action takes place.
In classic later Mission:Impossible style, Cobb and his team meticulously plan their inception, which goes wrong right from the start, leaving them improvising wildly. Additionally, Cobb has a dark secret about his wife and children, which keeps threatening to explode into the various dream scenarios.
There's a "plausible" explanation of why the team can't just wake up to escape mortal danger, which adds some genuine tension to the plot. The way events in the upper level dream can affect the lower level dream is fun. In one place, it leads to a great fight scene in a hotel corridor, spinning because the van holding the dreamers in the level above is rolling down an embankment.
The plot, while rich, is not incomprehensible, despite what the fervour surrounding the film might make you think. Rick Slusher's beautiful infographic from the FilmBook review blog (go there for the full size version) shows the various dream levels, and the order they are accessed. The graphic makes it abundantly clear that everything is quite simply nested: no twisted loops or other weird stuff.
But the plot is imaginative, (relatively) coherent and thought-through, the effects are stunning, some dream scenes are quite spooky, and there are some genuine shocks and revelations. Recommended.
reviewed 30 January 2011