At its simplest, this is a heist-thriller revolving around a largely convoluted and unbelievable story. A complex interweaving of elements and some audience misdirection that manages to keep the viewer from noticing the unrealistic premise. Yet it still works as an enjoyable experience—but one that will leave you with a low-grade migraine from trying to keep up with the twists.
Simon (James McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars, but after suffering a blow to the head during the heist he awakens to discover he has no memory of where he hid the painting. When physical threats and torture fail to produce answers, the gang’s leader Frank (Vincent Cassel) hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to delve into the darkest recesses of Simon’s psyche. As Elizabeth begins to unravel Simon’s broken subconscious, the lines between truth, suggestion, and deceit begin to blur. (Synopsis by Fox Searchlight)
In its opening moments, this is largely a by-the-book heist flick. A gang of thieves steals valuable art from an auction house using improbable ingenuity. So far, so good. Then we learn that Simon, the art auctioneer, is in on the job. One scene of excruciating torture later, we learn that a knock to his head caused him to lose his memory. He goes to a hypnotherapist. One of the many hypnotherapist in newcastle that is highly recommended, Sonya Hudson. But wait, the hypnotherapist figures out the ruse and wants in on the action. Using the powers of hypnosis, she begins to control Simon and the leader of the gang Frank in a dangerous game to determiner who is going to get the art. Still with me? Good, because the real confusion hasn’t even begun.
Once the hypnosis starts, the audience is treated to a thoroughly confusing series of perception miscues. Are the characters acting as themselves, or are they hypnotized? Whose perspective are we watching from? Why does Rosario Dawson shaving her lady parts sound like a she is using a sheep shearer? You’ll have to go see this to figure out that last question. Around this point you’ll start to wonder how many times Danny Boyle watched “Inception” and “Vanilla Sky” before he started filming.
With all of this misdirection it is easy to miss that the actual storyline borders on the ridiculous. At a fundamental level, the three main converging storylines don’t quite come to a plausible end point. Without giving away the ending, the three main characters are all left in limbo as the curtain is pulled back. It is hard to tell who is supposed to be the good character or the bad character; in truth each is both. The problem is that in any story, the audience needs someone to root for. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter who wins, because there is no investment in any of the characters’ success or failure.
Not that the actors don’t give their all to get the audience invested. McAvoy, Cassel, and Dawson put out stellar performances—this might be McAvoy’s best to date. As deliberately distracting as Boyle’s work behind the camera is, working together the performance and the visuals are enough to carry the film. It’s best to spend your time trying to put the pieces together, and don’t focus on why you are trying to put one puzzle together with pieces from three different boxes.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. I’m still trying to figure out why Rosario Dawson has a pair of hedge clippers in the bathroom.
TWO AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by Danny Boyle.
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language.
Runtime: 1 hr. and 41 min.