When I was a kid, one of my favorite television shows was MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. It was a great show that cashed in on the then current pop culture spy craze by giving us a team of highly skilled agents involved in complicated and cleverly designed con-games each week. M:I had a solid cast, terrific scripts and one of the greatest theme songs in television history. A few years ago, I bought MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season One and Season Two on DVD and watched those classic episodes again. I was impressed by just how good everything was, how the scripts managed to wring suspense every week while the complex mind games played out.
That's the thing about MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. It was never an action oriented show. The emphasis was on the con, the scheme, the plot, the plan, not on gun play, fisticuffs and explosions. That's why the current movie franchise starring Tom Cruise, is not pure M:I in my mind. It's an action movie series that's borrowed the name and the trappings but jettisoned the central conceit of the series: the elaborate mind game.
INCEPTION gets M:I right. In fact, it may be the greatest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE story ever filmed. I missed this movie when it came out last summer but I sat down and watched it yesterday afternoon and had my mind well and truly blown.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan delivers what has to be one of the most ingeniously conceived movies in many a year. It's a brilliant concept: a team of agents are able to penetrate a shared dream world in order to implant an idea into their targets' subconscious. The process is called "inception" as opposed to "extraction", a process the team uses to gain information from a target's subconscious.
Leonard DiCaprio leads the team into a manufactured dream world (built by the team's "architect", Ellen Page). The plan involves creating a three-level dream world, with each successive level leading deeper into target Cillian Murphy's subconscious. It's a dream within a dream within a dream. And underneath those three levels is limbo, a state of consciousness that can ensnare a dreamer for an infinite period of time.
The concept is well developed, set up and explained so that by the time the mission begins, the audience has a pretty good idea of what's going on and how things work. But once inside the dreams, things start to go wrong and the danger escalates. Nolan gives us three distinct dream worlds: a gritty, rain soaked urban crime milieu, a luxury hotel on a twisting, spinning axis and an assault on a mountain-top fortress straight out of a James Bond film. The action cuts back and forth between these three dream levels and adds a fourth level, limbo, to up the ante.
The special effects are breathtaking, the action is skillfully choreographed, the actors are all first rate and the screenplay is simply brilliant. In many ways, I thought this was a better Nolan film than any of his three Batman films. I loved the Batman franchise and thought each film was successively better than the previous one but I knew what to expect going in to a Batman movie. The concept and character were intimately familiar to me and while I loved them, I knew how things would ultimately turn out.
With INCEPTION, I had no idea where things were going, how things were going to play out, who was going to live or die. The audacity of the idea, the mind-twisting concept and the skill with which Nolan pulled it off left me stunned, amazed and thrilled. The originality of this movie was a breath of fresh air and I found INCEPTION to be one of the best films I've seen in the last several years.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. If you like to be challenged, if you want to take a cinematic thrill ride like none other, if you want to be entertained by a master filmmaker at the top of his game, see INCEPTION.