Starting with small, tight-paced thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, Christopher Nolan has made a name for himself in recent years as a director to watch out for. Perhaps most famous for his intelligent reboot of the Batman franchise and subsequent critical and commercial goldmine The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan is known for mixing complex plots with taunt action scenes; films held together with confident directing and varied ensemble casts. On a break between Batman movies in 2010, Nolan released his 2010 crime-heist sci-fi action movie Inception to vast acclaim, and proved there’s still some creativty to be found in big budget action blockbusters.The military has invented process which allows people to enter the dreams of others. The technology – designed to test soldiers in combat situations; dream worlds can be crafted by ‘architects’ allowing for endless potential in terrain, and the bonus of feeling pain within the dreams – without being killed – as a death means a wake up and swift re-entry into reality – makes the system perfect for combat training. However, the technology also has a secondary, less-legal use too – that of extraction, in which agents craft dreams and drop targets within them with the objective of stealing valuable information. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are such extractors, working for a shady corporation, and the film opens with them in a crafted world attempting to steal mental files from Saito (Ken Watanabe).Things go wrong however, as Saito’s dealt with dream-extraction before and knows some of the tricks – extra levels of reality, dreams within dreams, but instead of handing Cobb and co. over to their mysterious employers, Saito offers them a job – that of inception. The objective is to implant an idea, as opposed to stealing one, within the mind of Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer, the son of a dying corporate competitor, and have him dismantle his father’s legacy, thus ending the business threat to Saito’s regime. Cobb, believing Saito offers the chance to reunite him with his court-banished children, accepts the dangerous job, and rounds up a strong little team – Ellen Paige’s youthful architect Ariadne, Tom Hardy’s forger Eames and Dileep Rao’s chemist Yusuf to get the job done. Things are rendered more difficult by Cobb’s haunted pysche in the form of ex-wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) whom he projects as a sabotaging force into his dream-work space.That’s just the surface of what is a very complex plot. Inception throws the audience into the mix of things and is remarkably competent at explaining its detailed dream world. We’re given the basics, the rules, and then the plays on the rules very quickly and the audience needs to pay attention to keep up – it’s nice however to have a large scale action movie like this which requires people to think. The central concept – that of entering dreams – is a strong one already, but the film runs with its central idea, as Nolan pushes his genres – science fiction, action and crime heist – to create a complex and suspenseful thriller which leaves audiences guessing till its ending. There’s a Kubrickian element to the film, with its intelligent plot, focus on the characters’ mental states and repeated references to mazes – Paige’s character name comes from Greek myth, the daughter of Minos who provided Theseus with the golden thread for the Minotaur’s labyrinth – and it’s topped off with a cold ambiguity which Kubrick would have been proud of. There’s a theme throughout of the nature of reality which really helps Inception.The film suffers slightly from being so complicated it at times, and seems to make up the rules to suit the needs of plot- dying in a dream gets you out of dream…except if you’re too deep it only pushes you further, and the ‘kicks’ which wake characters seem to function when the writers need them too – but the film is so suspenseful the audience can’t help but completely give themselves over to it, and these minor plot issues become irrelevant. For such a thought-focused movie it’s also a surprisingly emotional one – Cobb’s relationship with his wife proving the highlight, in a character piece which provides a great deal of cathartic release at the climax.Inception is a plot heavy thriller but its also Nolan’s best for action. Nolan has been criticised in the Batman movies for his sloppy editing during fight scenes – there’s none of that here however, and we’re treated to some tense gunfights across various levels of dream reality. The stakes always feel high throughout and Nolan keeps the energy up with some wonderfully creative action moments – the gravity twisting corridor fight is one of modern cinema’s most impressive achievements, one made stronger by the fact it was all made with practical effects. Ideas like this – gravity on different levels changing the dream space for the characters, the threat of the projections when characters play with the rules – are fantastic and really set the film apart. For a film about dreams however, it’s rarely feels dream-like, but there are some great surreal moments – a flood of water smashing over DiCaprio in a dream as his upper level self is plunged into a bath, paradoxical staircases which lead nowhere, trains running though city streets, and a playful scene in which Ariadne literally puts the streets of Paris on top of one another. A film based wholly on a dream however wouldn’t make much narrative sense; dream movies are like those of David Lynch – heavy on mood, atmosphere and symbolism, and this sort of plotted story wouldn’t work in that context. Some dream elements do work however – such as characters mentioning you don’t notice the start of dreams, you find yourself in the middle every time – notice how the film begins, backing up this idea.Another one of the film’s highlights is its tense soundtrack; put together by Hans Zimmer with guitars played by Johnny Marr of The Smiths, it’s an instantly iconic score which has become something of a staple in movie trailers since. The song ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ is used wonderfully too as a timer, putting pressure on the characters and audience in a way not seen since William’s Jaws theme. In terms of visuals and sound, this is an intense movie, one to throw yourself into.Nolan is known for his ensembles and Inception really shines on this front. DiCaprio as the lead is on top form, dark and unsettling and wrestling with internal guilt revolving his past – you really buy into his plight to see his kids again and see him as a talented man who went a bit too far. Gordon Levitt is straight-laced and intelligent as Arthur and Hardy plays a cocky, charming character who steals most of the scenes he’s in. Paige isn’t given a great deal to do but comes across as a competent student and really, serves as a vehicle for the audience’s many questions. Watanabe is both smooth and threatening in his role and Cillian Murphy delivers a lovely tortured performance. Everyone is on top form and given a surprising amount of breathing space, so the audience does feel like they get to know everyone. Special mention has to go to Marion Cotillard who is on fire here. As Mal, she’s playing a representation of both Cobb’s guilt and happy memories, and she perfectly balances the character’s contradictions – murdering sociopath, tormented lover, loving wife, managing to be frightening, tragic and vulnerable all at the same time. It’s a wonderfully slinky, unhinged performance.Inception is easily Nolan’s most creative film, with a taunt plot held together with strong action scenes, great characters and drama, and surreal dream imagery. Is also easily the Nolan film with the most heart, and comes from a place of great passion, a real love for making movies which doesn’t come across quite so strongly in the colder Batman films. There’s a lot to love with Inception, and it’s a great sign of our times that big-budget blockbusters can be this powerful in this day and age.