And it's a doozy of a film. Inception tells the story of...well, it's really hard to explain without giving everything away, so here's the simple version: Cobb and his crew (which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao) have to enter the dreams of a businessman (Cillian Murphy) to plant an idea into his head. This, of course, is much more difficult than their usual work - stealing information from the subconscious - because inception has to be naturally inspired, or at least appear to be. This leads to some of the most inventive storytelling I've seen on film in a long time.
Inception is a lot of different kinds of films at once. On the surface, it's a heady piece of science fiction, but most of its intelligence (and it is very intelligent) comes from its ideas of the concepts of dreams and the subconscious. Nolan expertly provides us with intricate detail into how his dream world works; don't expect flying horses and buildings made of chocolate, though, because these dreams more closely mimic reality, with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences. The technology Cobb and company use is never explained, nor is there anything else noticeably futuristic about the setting of the film, which benefits the film in not having to explain a new world (at least one within our reality). But at it's heart Inception is really a fun, entertaining heist film, a kind of thinking-man's Ocean's 11.
Performance-wise, the cast is great all around. DiCaprio gives his best performance in a long time, making Cobb into a complex and intriguing figure, even as he is unraveling. Page's role isn't huge, but she gives the film some heart by helping Cobb wrestle with his inner demons, particularly the always-fantastic Marion Cotillard, who plays his wife, Mal. Both actresses give great performances, though I will admit my bias toward them (see my header). The true scene-stealers, though, are Gordon-Levitt, who exudes an intelligence and suave that is new, and Hardy, a "forger" who get's the best lines and some of the best moments.
The real star of the film, though, is Nolan, whose labyrinthine script plays concepts of psychology and physics that's not hard to follow as long as you pay close attention. Inception isn't the kind of film that let's you turn your brain off; it requires you to remember all of it's concepts and recall previous events from the film. And Nolan's direction toys with the concepts of time and, perhaps the film's biggest theme, perception vs. reality. I have to admit that, as the credits rolled and I was walking out of the theater, I found myself wondering whether or not I was dreaming at that moment. And that's part of what makes Inception such a masterpiece: its an autuerist film made in the mainstream, which, you must understand, is something that until the last decade simply did not exist.
Not to be ignored, though, is Wally Pfister's brilliant cinematography. Pfister has long collaborated with Nolan, having shot all of his films since Memento. His incredible images, including slow-motion shots, zero-gravity shots, and cities folding in on themselves, enhance the dreamlike state of the film. And in perhaps his greatest achievement here, he doesn't present the "reality" scenes any different from the "dream" scenes, furthering the question of what is real and what is not.
Inception, in my opinion, is a cinematic masterpiece. It's intelligent enough to make you think, with rich characters, heart-pumping action, and a great emotional through-line. It's a heist film with a Ph.D that never leaves you out in the cold.