(Written by Matt Shore)

Inception is an exciting and entertaining thrill ride. A worthy successor to The Dark Knight for writer-director Christopher Nolan, Inception is nothing short of the finest movie this summer – and potentially of the year. The gritty realism and stark contrast between darkness and muted colors still exist here in classic Nolan form, but there is a warmth to this picture and the clear indication that the director is pushing himself to invent something new in every frame. What sets Chris Nolan apart from other directors is his ability to make technical perfection his constant motif, as if the seemingly impossible feats he accomplishes shot-to-shot are ordinary. For the modern viewer, the aesthetic is something similar to a cross between AMC’s Mad Men and The Matrix. Well-dressed young men and women experience unbelievable things in an ultra-realistic manner, keeping with the plausibility-first notions of Nolan’s Batman franchise. Always a master of framing, tone and sustaining tension, Nolan achieves true aesthetic brilliance in moments so exquisite and enjoyable to watch that they demand an immediate second or third viewing. Unlike his Batmen movies, this franchise requires absolutely no preconceived knowledge to enjoy and should be a delight for all audiences.

The basic premise of Inception is simple enough. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a team of spies sent to infiltrate people’s minds through their dreams. They knock a subject out and steal the subject’s secrets while he sleeps. Leo recruits Ellen Page to help him perform a semi-impossible task: inserting an idea into a subject’s mind and tricking him into thinking it was his own. Due to the complexity of the work and the dangers inherent in the infiltration of people’s dreams, Leo relies upon a crack team of specialists to guide him through the dream worlds and help him accomplish his goal: the inception of a foreign idea into an unwilling subject. Along the way, the team battles rogue elements of their own subconsciousness and come to blows with the paradoxical time-jumps that occur in a dream within a dream. Nolan plays with elements like the slowing of time and concurrent action sequences in a way that suggests he likes movies as much as his audience and is crafting something both cutting-edge and reverent. Calling this movie well directed and edited would be an understatement. The pacing is brilliant, almost to a comedic level by the end. This is a lean film with very little fat around the edges and a universe tantalizing enough to make you want to revisit it soon.

Inception‘s cast is incredible and represents one of the finest teams of young actors available today, supported by a team of seasoned pros. Ellen Page is engaging, delivering a performance sure to further her career as a starlet worldwide. Her innocence and charm bring heart to the film, allowing the audience to learn the ins and outs of dream manipulation through her eyes. Marion Cotillard is commanding as usual and Leo DiCaprio proves once again to be a charismatic – if under-utilized – lead. Even in a supporting role, Joseph Gordon-Levitt steals the show verbally and visually, only occasionally shown up by his wisecracking British colleague Eames, played by Tom Hardy. Hardy is another of the movie’s best and most likable actors, providing brief moments of wit, charm, and humor. It’s an element that the movie’s first thirty minutes and last thirty minutes are sorely lacking. Hardy makes up for it in spades during his screen-time. Also cast, but barely billed are Cillian Murphy, who possibly provides the best performance of the picture with the least breathing room to do it in, Michael Caine, whom you might remember as every old man from every movie ever (besides Gandalf and Magneto), and Pete Postlethwaite, playing a different old man repenting on his death bed, assumedly for his performance in Clash of the Titans.

Inception clips along between its multi-tiered action sequences so quickly that there is seemingly infinite time to pull off complex cinematic maneuvers, but no time to get caught up in the human drama. Due to the fact that there are so many characters (it plays out like an Oceans 11 heist movie) and so much going on at any given moment, quiet palpable drama gets lost in the shuffle. But if you’re overly concerned with quiet drama, you are missing the point of Inception. It should impress you for the sheer complexity of its storytelling, as composed and articulated cinematically. The story serves as a structurally immaculate vehicle that facilitates the most amazing, mind-bending visuals I’ve seen in years. The fact that Chris Nolan communicates the whole thing fluidly is downright amazing. To call Inception the next level of special effects mastery is to take into careful note its pointed lack of 3-D and admire it for that fact. Inception has a game plan and it achieves its goals from beginning to end. The director placates the audience’s questions without pandering to them or revealing all of his secrets. It’s easy to get caught up in the experience. If every movie could combine the big risks and technical mastery of Inception with such success, the world of film would be a dream.