Opens: Friday 7/16
Us Rating: ***1/2
In this dazzling sci-fi puzzle box, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dream thief -- stealing business secrets by entering into the subconscious of unsuspecting execs. The stakes rise when Cobb attempts an even riskier stunt called "inception": He plants a destructive idea into the mind of a wealthy corporate heir (Cillian Murphy), so that he will dismantle his late father's thriving company.
The trouble is, while Cobb meddles in strangers' fantasies as they sleep, his own mind begins to sabotage him -- and recurring images of his late wife (Marion Cotillard) throw him off his game. While this dream-within-adream structure can sometimes be confusing, the movie (costarring Juno's Ellen Page as DiCaprio's inventive colleague) is as startlingly original as The Matrix -- and just as visually astonishing. Its shape-shifting images make for vibrant eye candy: A Paris street scene folds in on itself so that asphalt replaces the sky; a rickety elevator opens into a sandy beach paradise. Once again, the self-assured DiCaprio nails a challenging flawed hero role (one that's not far from his brilliant turn in Shutter Island earlier this year). And director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento) stylishly transports the audience to another world that, like many dreams, begins with the familiar and then takes a radical, imaginative leap. It all makes for a vivid and memorable ride.