Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Runtime: 101 mins. Reviewed in Apr 2013
This British thriller film tells the story of a London art dealer, who becomes implicated in the theft of a priceless painting, and undergoes therapy to help recover it when it can’t be found.
The film is directed by Danny Boyle, who directed the marvellous “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). Boyle is not a stranger to thriller components in films, but this is the first time he has entered the world of the sub-conscious to explore the vagaries of human memory. It is a movie that requires constant revisiting to work out the subtleties of its plot.
Simon Newton (James McAvoy) joins forces with a criminal gang when a Goya Painting, worth $40mill., goes on sale at his gallery’s auction house. Simon is the gang’s inside man, and he needs money to cope with his gambling problem. The gang arranged for him to hide the painting during the robbery, but the theft goes wrong, and the painting disappears.
Franck (Vincent Cassel), the head of the gang, wants to know what happened to the painting, and tortures Simon for the information in a grisly scene. Simon, however, has a severe case of amnesia after he suffered a blow to his head during the theft. Under pressure from Franck, a professional psychologist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), is hired to unlock Simon’s memories in an effort to find out what really happened, and Simon’s memory is probed by Elizabeth under hypnosis.
The film is stylish, engrossing and has the kind of effects that usually accompany the exploration of the blurry dividing line between reality and fantasy. The similarities with “Slumdog Millionaire” are obvious. The movie quickly establishes a frenetic pace, uses splashes of vivid colour to enhance its impact, engages in rapid editing to change scenarios, has an atmospheric musical sound-track, and makes effective use of contrast-lighting Boyle takes the viewer on a hectic ride as the plot twists and turns, conceptual possibilities are raised and then reversed or taken away, and thriller tension is camouflaged by multiple plot distractions.
The film starts off in Simon’s head, and it revolves heavily around Simon’s fragmented experience of what occurred before, during, and after the robbery attempt. The story-telling is visual, dynamic and absorbing, but confusing, and it occurs with violence and nudity that is confronting. The explicitness of the violence and sex aside, we are never sure whether the fantasies to which we are exposed are real, or projections of peoples’ disturbed consciousness. False memories, deceit, and nightmares provide a volatile mix, and the stimulation of it all is intended to be heady.
Before the movie is too far along, one gives up on the film’s multiple layers of meaning. The ride, however, in typical Boyle fashion, is idiosyncratic .There is no coherent Hitcockian suspense and sophistication to this journey, and Hitchcock would have done very different things with three immoral people (Simon, Franck, and Elizabeth), who look selfishly after their own interests. But both Hitchcock and Boyle communicate in exciting ways, a distinctive sense of cinematic pace and style.
This is a movie well worth seeing for what it delivers. It shows a creative director at work, and offers an absorbing experience. It is not at all accurate in what it says either about the nature of hypnosis or the nature of human memory, but it takes you on a terrific ride.
The ending of the film can’t be revealed by any self-respecting reviewer. Suffice it to say that, in typical Boyle fashion, it changes the plot, intrigues with another unexpected turn, and teases as much as it reveals.
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