I've seen Ellen Page in Hard Candy, Juno and Whip It. She is the premature reincarnation of Sally Field, i.e., remarkably short but very talented. She still cannot bring her architect role to life. Every time she unveils the next layer of DiCaprio's secret, correctly observes that it's crazy to follow this nut job, then promptly proceeds to ignore herself, I couldn't believe she was a)sensitive and clever enough to leap to the correct conclusion, b)genuinely concerned about the others on the team or c)bravely overcoming fears. To overcome fear, you have to be afraid and she wasn't.
Unfortunately for the movie, Page's character is the motor for the rather prolonged exposure of DiCaprio's backstory, as well as the emergency doubletalk solution to a movie ending delaying moment of alleged jeopardy. If Allen Ludden had been cast, DiCaprio could have officially signed into I've Got a Secret.
Like the panel, Page at regular intervals asks questions to provide the audience clues. It is not a bit obvious why Page needed to be there, if she just designed the scenery. The pointlessness of the character is not helpful.
Ken Watanabe as the hands on billionaire who will take part in waylaying a competitor (surely a criminal act,) is completely unbelievable. He's energetic enough though to make you wonder how Cillian Murphy's character could possibly fail to recognize a business rival in the next aisle of the plane.
Tom Hardy does some sort of male bitch shtick, but that's not quite a personality.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt does quite well in playing a nondescript personality. He is indeed a stick up the ass dude, but he's a convincing one. This is vital to passing off the team as a group of real people with monetary goals, instead of finger puppets for DiCaprio.
Cillian Murphy provides a welcome bit of human emotion, and his character actually explores the notion of dreams as wish fulfilment a little.
But the movie is essentially, does DiCaprio win? The movie is basically lots of action with repeated apparent defeats for DiCaprio, which have to be surmounted by first giving in to his demons, then mastering them, supposedly, though that part is not quite so compelling as they would hope. The action sequences are mostly muddy and confusing, especially every bit of the snow sequence. You can't tell what's happening but fortunately you don't much care about the action sequences. Only the free fall sequence doesn't dull quickly. Some key dialogue is also buried.
Marion Cotillard makes no sense. For instance, she, supposedly a projection of DiCaprio's unconscious "kills" Cillian Murphy, as a way of dragging him into the unconstructed dream state. Since Saito, who DiCaprio also needs to get back to his kids, is also headed in to said dream state by a dream "death," DiCaprio will be entering the dream state, bringing the projection of Moll (sp?) with him. There is not supposed to be an independent Moll who actually kidnaps Murphy and has to be chased, which seems to be what everyone inexplicably believes.
It is not correct that the brain actually works faster when dreaming, much less in a geometrical progression as one goes "deeper." However absurd the premise (and the related notion that dreams are more creative,) at least it is consistently adhered to. The dream sequences are mostly done as virtual reality, but the sudden scene shifts typical of dreams are neatly captured. Repetitions and reappearances found in real dreams are not used. It is not clear why projections obediently die like video game characters.
At the end, when the spinning top begins to precess (meaning, eventually fall,) by the rules of the game, that means it's real and DiCaprio won. However, it is unlikely that Cillian Murphy and Tom Berenger won't discuss when
Murphy was put into a dream state, which he knows because DiCaprio told him. For that matter, it is unlikely he wouldn't discuss Berenger's dream actions, revealing that Berenger was "forged" by Tom Hardy. Last, Murphy will remember seeing DiCaprio on the plane but won't remember him in context of training against extraction. It is likely that the inception will fail, providing an ironic comment on DiCaprio's victory. I'm pretty sure it's unintentional.
But anyone who's seen Nolan's previous work will recognize a fixation on a guilty hero, a bizarre belief that ambiguity is deep and a general inability to conceive characters with real motives. Plus an obnoxious insistence that the score go bang, bang, bang to force tension by sheer volume. Writers often revisit material but Nolan has done very little processing since Insomnia and The Prestige. At least DiCaprio doesn't win by being the biggest prick.
But in the end, this movie has something it's flaws can't diminish: Originality. Above average.