To dispel the myth that this is original, I have to say it draws fairly obvious comparisons to the following works, which isn't to say it lacks originality, more that it treads the same sort of path with a different flavour.
* The Matrix (1999) - Anyone who doesn't see this must be blind; they seem to come from the same seam. It's one of the few similar films that can stand up next to it though. * Dark City (1998) - The buildings, the gravity. I can't say more than that. * Blade Runner (1982) - Chris loves this film. It's more in visual styles than story but it's there. And when I think of the title I can't help but think of the term "incept date". * Star Trek TNG - For the holodeck reference/style mostly. * Heat (1995) - The action scenes, despite the fantasy settings, seem remarkably tight and often quite realistic. * Synecdoche, New York (2008) - The more I think about it, the more similar it seems to this film, and the more this film seems similar to Dark City. Which is why I like them, I guess. * Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) - Love is a big theme and how the mind deals with it an even bigger one. It would spoil Leo's story arc to say more. * eXistenZ (1999) - Can't believe I nearly missed this one. In that film it is virtual reality, as with The Matrix, but there are still a lot of parallels. * Ocean's Eleven (2001) - The whole thing about it being a concerted team effort to pull of such an ambitious caper.
There are a lot of tiers at work here, and it's probably going to be the case that it's good first time around, and perhaps more intelligible after another viewing or three. Of course, the folks who fund Nolan films are aware of this and are hoping to double their revenue streams, actually adding this observation to some of the marketing bumph in the hope of getting people to go and see it twice a la Fight Club which makes me more than a little cynical, but I can wait for the home release anyway and would recommend everyone else do the same. This looks like a fun one to learn, certainly something worth studying if you happen to have more than a passing interest in film-making and convoluted slight-of-hand storytelling, and you really need to be able to pause, rewind and freeze-frame advance certain sections in order to do that.
It mines the seam of "what is reality, really?" a favourite topic of Andrew Niccols and Charlie Kaufman, too. Those are among my favourite types of works because they beg endless discussion and if handled correctly can be a great source of inspiration. As I have a soft spot for those kinds of plots I suppose I'm naturally more willing to grant a bit more leeway, because credit where it is due I did find myself mulling over my perceptions of reality and re-evaluating the value of lucid dreams. Most films leave no discernible traces in the minds of anyone which makes this at least above average.
The special effects aren't overused and/or intrusive, merely adding to the story I feel. And the mixture of CGI with real photographed elements is deftly handled. There is the odd moment of "oh, too much" or "not layer blended so well there" but trust me, it's far superior to a lot of the junk that gets through and at times I actually think they were deliberately making it a little weird and obvious to show it's still not a real world.
To tie this review up: as one of the seemingly few people who thought The Dark Knight was a hopeless mess with very little to enjoy outside of a fiery Heath Ledger performance it's a welcome return to the twisting story lines that are usually a Nolan trademark. Despite the length there is enough going on that it doesn't feel like a moment of filler is present. Also, I would like to briefly point out that this is the first film DiCaprio has starred in where I actually enjoyed his performance completely.
This film is not his best but nor is it his worst. It is well worth a watch, no doubt about that, but it shouldn't be heralded as a masterpiece and as of the time of writing this review is far, far too high in the IMDb Top 250. I'll grant that it is better than most of the cookie-cutter remake product that Hollywood is very fond of dishing up as of the past decade or so, therefore it looks better by comparison, but it isn't quite coherent enough to be brilliant. Hopefully it will inspire other writer/director auteurs to come up with similar, perhaps more lucid works. As it is, Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006) are still the high watermarks against which few others can measure up, even the man himself. But it's still one hell of a ride.