Review: 'Inception'

(Three-and-a-half stars)

Some filmmakers dream big.

Director Christopher Nolan's ("Memento," "The Dark Knight") visually stunning and exceptionally cast "Inception" is a cinematic marvel -- a rare film inspired by imagination rather than potential box-office return. Although the big-budget flick features persistent and impressive visual effects, it is also thought-provoking and poignant.

Leonardo DiCaprio headlines the top-notch cast as Dom Cobb, an enigmatic fellow whose expertise is accessing someone's subconscious through their dreams and "extracting" (i.e., stealing) valuable information. Cobb is also a troubled man, hunted by shady government agents and haunted by memories of his deceased wife (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard).

When a powerful businessman (Ken Watanabe) offers Cobb a chance to clear his record and return home to his children, he embraces the opportunity. But the task is far from simple. Cobb and his carefully selected team (which includes "point man" Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "architect" Ellen Page and "forger" Tom Hardy) are to enter the dreams of soon-to-be tycoon Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), and plant an idea, an act known as "inception."

As Cobb and his crew know only too well, dreams can be dangerously unpredictable. While the group dives deeper and deeper into Fischer's subconscious, threats slowly emerge, forcing each member to face the possibility of a mental limbo they may never wake from.

Despite appearances, "Inception" is far more substance than spectacle. There are philosophical, spiritual and moral observations sprinkled throughout (though thankfully not forced down the viewers' throats) and the characters are wonderfully complex. Similarly themed films have been produced over the years -- such as the 1984 Dennis Quaid thriller "Dreamscape," the 1999 blockbuster "The Matrix" and Jim Carrey's 2004 indie hit "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" -- though none with as quality a cast or as much dramatic oomph as "Inception."

The actors all shine, feeding off one another with thespian prowess. DiCaprio -- easily one of the best actors working today -- serves up yet another raw and riveting performance. Gordon-Levitt plays against type and does so with aplomb as Cobb's no-nonsense right-hand man. British-born actor Hardy ("RocknRolla") is a scene-stealing revelation and Murphy ("Red Eye") offers a sympathetic and sincere portrayal.

When "Juno" darling Ellen Page is the weakest link (Page still gives a terrific performance), we know the ensemble is outstanding. (Nolan even throws in veterans Michael Caine, Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite for good measure.)

Where "Inception" stumbles a bit is in the storyline, which for most will be a little confusing and for others will be downright incomprehensible. It is one of those visionary, nuanced films that at first might be perplexing but becomes clear after a second or third viewing. The movie is almost hypnotic -- a mind-bending experience laced with palpable tension and fueled with drama.

Sweet dreams.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout. 2 hours, 22 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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