The key tenet of any heist film is that, after explaining the plan in meticulous detail, something has to go woefully wrong and throw everything on its head. In this middle portion of “Inception,” Yusef’s improvisation amid a shootout on the bridge means he has to enact the “kick,” or that feeling of vertigo precipitating a fall that jolts a sleeping person wide awake, much too early. Initially, the team accounted for the van hitting the barrier of the bridge. But when they miss that window and the van enters freefall, causing the utter lack of gravity inside the hotel layer, Cobb and his friends must scramble once again to be ready for the next kick — the van hitting the water below.
In the space of only a few minutes, Nolan turns a series of rather indulgent action sequences — the van chase, the hotel fight, and the snowmobile assault — into a problem in need of a genuinely clever solution. As Arthur himself explained to Ariadne earlier in the film as he was setting the charges, how would he ever hope to instigate a kick without gravity? Once that worst-case scenario rears its head, he goes about setting up explosive charges around the hotel elevator. Without so much as a word of exposition, it’s clear to audiences that once Cobb and his team in the snowy level accomplish their all-important mission of helping Fischer achieve his emotional realization and dissolve his company, several chain reactions will unfold that can only take place with Arthur’s fast-thinking.
What we’re ultimately left with is a series of immensely satisfying payoffs when each kick successfully works as planned. And at the centerpiece of all this action was an unassuming hallway fight that Nolan transformed into something much more.