On one level, this is the ultimate crime caper with the enjoyment of watching the team be assembled, watching the multi-layered plan be put into effect, and the tension of wondering if it will work.
On a completely different level, this movie probes how we know what is true, whether we will settle for what we wish rather than what is real, and our ultimate deep need for facing guilt and true reconciliation.
Somehow Christopher Nolan has managed to combine James Bond style action, a stylish heist movie, the best elements of the Matrix (which this blew out of the water, hands-down), horror movie suspense, a sci-fi world setting, a logic puzzle requiring intense concentration, and the love of a man for his family into a cohesive and satisfying whole. It is a mark of Christopher Nolan's skill that he leads us deeper and deeper into the complex plot without huge chunks of exposition but in such a way that we can keep up while the story flows on.
You can enjoy this on many levels or simply for the top story-telling. The acting was superb from such well known actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy ... and a new actor to me, Tom Hardy.
I would say more about the plot, but having avoided every review so I could let the movie unfold and take it on the director's terms, I will let you do the same. Do not miss this elegantly told, layered story that succeeds on a personal level which I have not seen from Nolan's movies before.
SPOILERS below the white space:
Just a couple of points:
- Ariadne - in Greek mythology was the girl who helped Theseus get through the maze so he could overcome the minotaur ... think of the maze she created to get the job. Even at the time I was watching and trying to puzzle why that name was significant, I thought that maze was like the Minotaur's labyrinth.
- I loved how the different levels echoed the people whose subconscious we were in, such as the rain in the chemist's city, the elegant design of Arthur's hotel (just passing through), the snow-cold fortress of Fischer's heart (thank you, Dad).
- The parallel sons and fathers were interesting as well, as briefly as we saw them. Cobb's father (Michael Caine) was supportive and taught him everything he knew. Fischer's father was cold and heartless.
- Although we never saw them use their tokens, I liked how they echoed their makers: point man Arthur's loaded die and architect/maze maker Ariadne's chess piece.
- Rose told me that Christopher Nolan had to use a pyramid story-telling scheme to keep track of all the levels and the time lines. One reviewer called the story relentlessly true to it's internal logic and this seemed right to us. I can't image how they kept track of all this.
- I know this is a Nolan trademark but I liked all the repeating lines through the movie that always meant something different depending on the time, place, and character saying them. Just a clever thing that adds emphasis to the depth of the story.
- ADDED: I am not really a Leonardo DiCaprio fan at all but he is simply wonderful in this role. It made me think back to the first movie I ever saw him in, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He and Johnny Depp were both very good. Now, flash forward and I am mentally comparing their acting. DiCaprio's work in this film especially makes it clear to me that he is progressing into an actor of depth and that Johnny Depp, as much as I like him, has simply stalled. I am not sure whether he needs to seek different roles and directors in order to further develop his talent or whether he has fewer notes to sound than DiCaprio. Either way, he is not the same caliber of actor and everyone in our family had to admit it (despite the fact that none of the females wanted to do so!).