Since 2000, the name Christopher Nolan immediately makes me go all giddity-giddity inside. Since his first major hit “Momento” to the Oscar-winning “The Dark Knight,” Nolan has delivered a consistent helping of style, substance and something special to the masses. Needless to say, when his name shows up on the trailer, the expectation for high-end cinema is extremely desired.

So for the past year, since filmgoers were first introduced and confused by quick glimpses of mind-bending, M.C. Escher-esque action, the buzz has been almost unbearable. What is “Inception?” became as powerful a question as “What is the Matrix?” was in 1999.

Of course, for most summer movies, the pitch of the excitement rises so fast and at such a rate that when the film is actually delivered, it fails miserably in comparison. Yes, we get one or two blockbusters that hit on all cylinders, but time has told us that under delivering is the most common outcome.

“Inception,” Nolan’s newest present to the world, delivers and exceeds expectation and leaves you wanting more.

But, what is “Inception?”

“Inception” is an idea. It’s a thought. It’s something you have not thought of and that you’re trying to make yours. It’s nearly impossible.

Following a team of dream invaders, the film challenges you to follow, keep up and comprehend the complex new world of information espionage. Cobb (an always-on point Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (the Peter Pan-like Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are partners and experts in this medium and after a setback, are asked to do the impossible … yup you guessed it … Inception.

While the concept of dreams is not an entirely original theme for movies and the idea of dream invasion is something that has been toyed with in a variety of films (see 1984’s “Dreamscape” starring Dennis Quaid – a childhood guilty pleasure of mine) Nolan’s approach is extremely original. As I said before, Nolan brings a steady style to everything he does and with this multi-layered story, a less talented person would have failed miserably.

What I appreciate most about this film is that it doesn’t wait for you to catch up. It immediately throws you into the fray and makes a point to award the attentive and confuse the distracted. At the same time, I love it when films make you question what is real. Where do the dreams end and our reality begins? Easily, this could make it a “Vanilla Sky” retread, but thankfully it’s not (Ugh, “Vanilla Sky” what a waste of good music.) This film takes a more philosophical and intellectual approach to the subject with Nolan doing his best to account for every detail of the dreaming and the awake and then blurring them.

Character-wise, the story focuses on the internal drama of Cobb. While the tragedy of the character is very similar to the trauma DiCaprio gave us in “Shutter Island,” it’s refreshing to experience a character that, while both the solution and the problem for the team, is motivated by the raw selfish human emotions to hold on to the most precious and get back to all he has left. Cobb’s sadness is the key source of the struggles that hinder the team and when his subconscious starts invading the mission, everything starts to quickly unravel.

With a cast of all-stars and up-and-comers, this film has talent in spades. Nothing and no one is wasted as every character plays an integral part of the team and each actor finds the right time and the right place to shine. Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai,” “Batman Begins”) spews confidence and demands respect throughout the film while Tom Hardy’s (“RocknRolla,” “Bronson”) devilish and devious Eames charms anything and everything he wants from everyone. Cillian Murphy (“Batman Begins,” “28 Days Later”) once again brings a solid performance and proves to be much deeper than the usual “heir to the throne of riches” kind of character.

At the same time, I am thankfully full of praise as to how the female characters are presented. Ellen Page (Juno) as the young and talented Ariadne and Marion Cotillard (Nine) as the lost Mal are as powerful as they are beautiful. Ariadne is just brilliant as Arthur, if not more and Mal is the yin to Cobb’s yang, making the torment even more heartbreaking.

Also, and I’ not sure how many mainstream people actually pay attention to this, but the score in this film is simply amazing. Hans Zimmer, (“True Romance,” “The Lion King,” “Gladiator,” “Sherlock Holmes”) I do not know you but I think I love you. Simply powerful, you can feel the tension rise inside you and I swear I could feel my heart beating in rhythm to the music. I felt this way in my first viewing of the “Dark Knight” (which Zimmer also scored) and I’m telling you, this is award-winning stuff.

Oh and I have to mention the action. While not entirely an action movie, the glimpses I mentioned above are just the beginning of the gravity-defying, heart-stopping scenes within the film. Truly tense and incredibly cool, “Inception” delivers in showing the audience something amazing. In my opinion, what makes it cool is that it’s all based on the story. Not picking up on the gimmicks that have worked for other films, the action has a reason, a purpose and is based on the strange reality of the dreamers. Mesmerizing.

However, with all that being said, the masterpiece of the movie may also be its downfall. Such heady films make most movie munchers leave needing Motrin and this film will be no different. I think for everything I praised it for, some will complain. I’m not saying that I am better or smarter because I enjoyed this film, I’m just saying that sometimes, audiences want to shut off their mind and be entertained and this film needs some solid comprehension skills to get through it, in one piece. I understand the complaints, but completely disagree with them.

Overall, Christopher Nolan has brought the big brain back to the big budget blockbuster in a big way. With a solid running time and content that will blow you away, “Inception” is the quality diamond in the rough of summer films. Pay attention, crunch your popcorn as quietly as you can and just follow the cast down into the tapestry of the dreaming mind. Just try to remember your way back out.

5 out of 5 Totems

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