Few movies elicit a wow from my mouth, whether for technical or narrative spectacle. And even if one does, that doesn't necessarily mean I consider that film great. My wholeheartedly subjective list of great films is rather small, currently only at seven films. Avatar, which wowed me technically, was the last film I'd seen that threatened its way onto that list, but upon further viewings, in light of its fairly pedestrian story (though one, I maintain, holds up under scrutiny), it failed to do so.
Enter Christopher Nolan.
I have long been a fan of Nolan's, going way back to 2001, when I first saw Memento in a barracks room in South Korea. Though not quite a "wow" movie, that one certainly garnered a "holy shit." He followed it up with the "just okay" American remake of Insomnia, then stormed into the public consciousness as the guiding hand of the relaunched Batman franchise (of which both films are awesome). I enjoyed The Prestige, but while it was far superior to its competing magician film (The Illusionist), there was certainly nothing in it that screamed "great."
The plot, at its core, is relatively simple: there are secrets men hold that other men want to know. Really, that's it in a nutshell. But the "spies" hired to discover these secrets steal them by entering the dreams of their targets. And that's where everything goes haywire. I won't even try to explain it in detail, because I don't think I can. But Nolan... well, he proves his mastery in directing and - as the film's sole credited screenwriter - creating a seemingly convoluted story that is, in fact, so tightly woven there's not only no room for error, there's no noticeable error at all. Though he came close, he didn't do this with Memento. He certainly didn't do this with the Batman films (lots of comic book fans continuously poke holes in those plots). But he certainly has done it with Inception.
Initially, the story seems rushed. We're getting to the point so fast, we don't really know who the characters are by the time we get into the second act. In a normal film, I'd be highly irritated by this, but given Inception's extended run-time and the fact that Nolan does an extremely adept job at filling in the characters throughout Act 2, I quickly forgave its rapid-fire opening and jumped into the film.
Enter Act 3.
Hands down, the best third act of a film I've ever seen. Ever. Everything we've learned in the first two acts comes into play and we're given a spectacle of imagination, action, and resolution that one must describe as beautiful. Nolan also provided each of the protagonists with entirely separate (screen-wise) climaxes, and there is no doubt that upon reading the script, none of the actors had to think twice about accepting their roles. And if there is a poor sap out there that did, well, he or she is an idiot. Some of the promotional material for Inception labeled the film as "The Matrix meets James Bond," and while I'm hesitant to make such a direct comparison, it's definitely an apt one (although "The Matrix meets Mission: Impossible" is probably more accurate).
In the hands of lesser filmmakers, we could have been shown a tattered mess, with dangling plot-threads and continuity errors galore. In Nolan's hands, though, the dots are connected and the threads are tied. If any weren't, I didn't notice, and I'm a bit anal about plot-holes.
The casting is near-perfect, with every role played to perfection save for that of Ariadne's (portrayed by Ellen Page). Not sure why, but she stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Of course, there is a strong possibility that this was Nolan's intent, so my criticism of Page ends there. As far as the rest, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy seemed destined for their roles. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who at first seems a little odd, completely owns his character by the end of the film and one would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone else playing The Pointman. Cameos by Michael Caine, Lukas Haas, Tom Berenger, and Pete Postlethwaite aren't distracting in the least, and I'd be remiss by not mentioning the underutilized talent of Dileep Rao (used to great extent in Inception).
If I have one issue with the film, it's the attempt at an ambiguous ending. Nolan did such an excellent job setting and wrapping things up, audiences were already wondering what was real and what wasn't. He didn't have to hammer that point home. Granted, the final moments of the film are, no doubt, what will have everyone talking, but they were unnecessary. Everyone would've been talking anyway. Still, it wasn't as forcefully ambiguous as a lot of these so-called clever films tend to be, and it will take no enjoyment or wonder away from what you just saw.
Inception, my friends, is that good. Great, even. Wow.