Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani
Plot: When an art auctioneer (McAvoy) gets a knock on the head that results in amnesia, during a heist, the robbers hire a hypnotist (Dawson) to find out where he stashed a Goya painting.
The film opens with James McAvoy calmly explaining the set-up of the film to the camera, while the prologue to the film plays out with sharp efficiency. It is well-directed, sharp and lines up the majority of the characters we will come to know: it also lets the audience know that you are going to be watching a Danny Boyle movie.
The plot is full of twists and turns and will try and lose you along the way. It starts off with a simple premise, easily summed up in a sentence. McAvoy gets amnesia after a knock on the head and only hypnotherapy can unlock the secrets he has forgotten. If it wasn’t for Danny Boyle, I would have probably written this movie off as an unimaginative thriller and not bothered to have seen it. However, before long, the twists start coming and we learn that this film is by no means an unimaginative flick.
Let’s start with the actors, shall we? The three leads are McAvoy, Cassell and Dawson; it is hard to pinpoint who plays the true lead of the film, because all three seem to have equal screen time and all get a turn at playing the hero, as the morals change continuously throughout the movie. McAvoy seems an unlikely choice of actor, but we have said that about his last five roles and each time he has proven us wrong. This is no different. He arguably gets the hardest job, as his character is constantly adrift, never too sure on his own morality. However, McAvoy holds it together, coming across as relatable when it is needed and distant, when we are meant to lose sight of who the character is.
Cassell is probably the strongest actor of the lot, so he takes up the role of underacting here. He plays a character perfect for the actor: a career criminal, but here, he is given more morality than he is used to. It works well, mainly due to a great script. Then finally, we have Rosario Dawson. Now, I have never been too sure of Rosario Dawson as an actress. She isn’t bad, but she always seems to become the most forgettable character in any of her chosen films, such as Alexander and Death Proof (which is surprising as she was one of the biggest stars in Death Proof). However, here, I must admit she does very well. She may be the weaker of the three leads, but she is very confident in her character, radiating control, even when her character is getting way over her head.
The actors all do great, but the true star of this film is Danny Boyle, himself. Most of this film we are treated to his little directorial tricks. We are very aware this is a story about a broken mind. He constantly changes styles. Sometimes we are given a normal wide shot and then the next scene will be filmed with a grainy video camera, and then CCTV footage. Boring expositional scenes are made exciting with some sharp directing. The soundtrack is selected perfectly, matching the tone of the film excellently (Emeli Sande did the theme with ‘Here it Comes’, but Rosario Dawson sang it herself for the closing credits – it was a beautiful, catchy cover). There were points, when it was almost too much; Danny Boyle was pretty much just showing off.
Despite the fact that we are never sure if we are watching a trick of the mind or an actual scene, when Boyle wants to create realism, he does with remarkable prowess. When we finally get to the shooting at the end, each shot feels real, making the audience jump as they ring out. I thought going to the cinema every week had made me desensitised to violence and guns, yet Boyle finds a way of making everything feel new and alien: the perfect ingredients of a thriller of this sort. Oh, and there is a point near the end, when one of the characters get killed off in such a way, I was squirming in my seat for a good while.
I’ve been reading some other reviews of this film and the story is where so people will get lost. It is a film that has the same feel to it as Shutter Island and Fight Club: there will a lot of small details that are worth looking out for during a second watch. There is a certain point halfway through the film, where Boyle throws a twist at you, but when the shock dies down we are left with about twenty minutes worth of scenes, where we are completely unsure as to what is going on. Three scenes play out at once and we are unsure if any of them are even real. Thankfully, by the end, Boyle reels the audience back in and we are treated to a firm explanation of what went on, saving the story. Some feel that the conclusion was a little mundane, but I quite liked it. All of this plot over something fairly dull. Also, I don’t know why, but I am in love with the last shot of the film. After all of the neat directing, it ends on a simple mid-shot and a happy note. It was a good way to end the film.
This is the kind of film only Danny Boyle could make. It is so well-crafted, it could be called art (probably fitting considering the subject matter). There is something in this movie for everyone and I reckon it will improve with age, becoming one of the stand-out Boyle movies, alongside 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire.
Final verdict: A truly holistic movie. A perfect script, great acting and some visually stunning direction.