The key to success in media-based entertainment is detail. Small details, big details, seemingly irrellevant details - these aren't just a good idea, they're essential in making something more than a mere superficial spectacle (hello, every summer movie ever made!). It's in these details that you'll find Inception's true success - a thriller so intricate, so vast in scale yet fine in detail that you can't help but wonder if Christopher Nolan really is the closest thing this modern age has to its very own Alfred Hitchcock.
Of course, this is a huge - nay, massive - burden to lay across the shoulders of what is essentially a massive, action-packed summer movie, but don't be fooled by the big budget dressings. Like The Dark Knight before it, this is arthouse disguised as popcorn entertainment, gleefully twirling its false moustache as it demands more thought from its audience than any other movie you're likely to see this year. And whilst we should indeed wait for Mr Nolan to make a few more movies before we start comparing him to anyone, Hitchcock or otherwise - Inception is still monumentally impressive, regardless of whether you look at it as a spectacular action blockbuster or a cerebral thriller.
Telling the story of Dom Cobb, a man who specialises in invading and plundering peoples' subconcious through the use of tailor-made sedatives that put the user into a state of hyper-lucid dreaming. Thanks to this rather unique talent, he's presently on the run, doing his best to evade the authorities and do business at the same time. But when a wealthy businessman asks of him the impossible - to plant an idea that the subject thinks is their own: to perform inception - the game changes, and he and his team are catapulted into a dream world which seems to be haunted by the ghosts of Cobb's past.
Suffice to say, the plot thickens from there, and each successive layering adds new possibilities, as well as new implausibilities. To reveal more is to spoil the fun, but bear in mind that this is not a film that you can view with your brain switched to auto-pilot. Turn off for a second, and you're a shoe in for a second viewing. But we shall say no more than it demonstrates that Nolan's talents aren't merely in the language of cinema, but in the structuring of a story too.
Those talents are in full display here. Gravity defying action is the order of the day, and there are moments of genuine exhilaration - watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt cascade about a rotating corridor without your jaw on the floor at your own peril.
There's food for thought too - shades of The Matrix, Dark City and even Nolan's own Memento abound, with musings on the nature of dreams, on immortality and even on the afterlife providing a mental chew-toy for viewers to have at in the hours after viewing.
The cast are exceptional - Leo DiCaprio has arguably never been better in the lead role, with implacable support from Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. Ellen Page is tasked with the audience surrogate - though her role becomes more fleshed out as the story progresses and she admirably rises to the occasion. Cillian Murphy sets aside his more sinister roles for a put-upon son whose mind is being invaded - doing a fantastic job of blurring the lines of morality.
If there is a flaw, it's that Nolan successfully has us rooting for the bad guys all along. No matter how human we make them, no matter how sympathetic - the act of inception is truly an unpleasant concept here made real, and these gentlemen go about their business in particularly nefarious ways. But this is but an intellectual quibble - one to be debated and discussed, instead of held against the movie itself.
What stands is that this is a truly staggering piece of work. The scale of the imagination, and the detail of the realisation, mean repeat viewings will do nothing if not strengthen its value. One for the ages then - and it brings Nolan one step closer to Hitchcockian glory.