INCEPTION — ★★★★ — Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt; also showing in the large-screen format; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, brief gore); in general release
It's the only word that comes close to describing "Inception."
The latest big-screen feature from "Dark Knight" filmmaker Christopher Nolan is part noir/mystery thriller, part sci-fi thriller and part espionage tale, but it's also much more original than that description makes it sound.
It's the kind of thing that only comes along once every few decades.
With its mix of heady concepts and thrilling, inventive action sequences, as well as its passing resemblance to "Alice in Wonderland" and like-minded concepts, this movie will remind people of the feeling the original "Matrix" film gave them back in 1999.
Yet, it's even better than that makes it sound — it's miles beyond "The Matrix."
There are also some interesting parallels with the last movie Leonardo DiCaprio starred in, the Martin Scorsese-directed adaptation of "Shutter Island." But this brain buster makes that complicated material seem like kid stuff.
(It may take multiple viewings just to catch everything and make the most exacting interpretation of its many layers.)
DiCaprio stars as Cobb, an "extractor," or a professional dream thief, whose main job is to "steal" secrets from people while he's rummaging around in their subconscious. Using drugs and mental constructs, he actually gets inside his victims' heads.
Cobb's last job didn't go so well, but his employer, Saito (Ken Watanabe), still wants to retain his services.
In fact, he's asking Cobb and his team to do the nearly impossible. Saito intends to plant a destructive idea in the head of his main competitor, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), who's about to inherit his father's energy conglomerate empire.
For Cobb, this "inception" job is irresistible. But to pull something like this off, he'll need a skilled "architect" to construct the layered dream reality into which they'll go.
The "architect" is Ariadne (Ellen Page), whose dream-constructing skills dwarf those of Cobb. However, in the preparation process, Ariadne has discovered Cobb's deepest, darkest secret. His dreams are being haunted by his dead wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).
She's become a malicious presence, one who's been sabotaging his jobs and one with dangerous, destructive tendencies.
Co-screenwriter/director Nolan has really stepped up his game, both in terms of staging eye-popping action and in terms of characterizations. (His films are often beautiful but icy. There's real humanity and warmth here, though.)
He's aided by a terrific ensemble cast, which not only includes DiCaprio and Page, but also "regulars" such as Watanabe, Murphy and Michael Caine.
The most interesting turn may be that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gets to be an action hero. (Why Sony Pictures didn't tap him to become their new Spider-Man, on the strengths of his work here, is anyone's guess.)
"Inception" is rated PG-13 and features violent content and imagery (gunplay and shootings, knifeplay and a stabbing, brawling and fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem, fiery and explosive mayhem, self-imposed violence, and violence against women), scattered profanity, brief bloody imagery, some crude slang terms, and derogatory language and slurs. Running time: 148 minutes.