The description of this film did not sound promising: “A fine-art auctioneer joins forces with a hypnotherapist to retrieve a stolen painting.” Hmm. Sounds like some erudite version of Matlock, doesn’t it? It’s not. Before I tell you what it is though, let me say that I went into this film knowing nothing at all and I found that to be a very pleasant way to watch this film. So you might want to skip this review and do the same, though I will carefully avoid spoilers. In any event, come back and share your views.
PlotThe story opens with the main character giving you a brief history of how art theft once worked and what the auction house he works for now does to stop modern thieves. Our hero happens to have a specific role in that, which requires him to spirit away the most expensive piece of art in the event of a robbery and drop it into a huge time-lock safe. The hero, by the way, is Simon (James McAvoy). No sooner does Simon tell us this, than a robbery takes place. As thugs release smoke grenades, Simon does his thing, only before he can drop the painting into the vault, he runs into Franck (Vincent Cassel). Franck takes the painting from Simon.
The movie has begun.
To dance around some spoilers, Simon attacks Franck even though his employer has explicitly told him never to do that. Franck, in turn, knocks Simon out with the butt of his shotgun. Simon seems badly hurt. Franck then disappears with the painting... only, the painting isn’t in the case. Somehow, it has vanished.
That last line probably has you thinking that this film will be really dull with Simon going through a journey of discovery about childhood trauma as he weeps on Elizabeth’s couch. It’s not. (Remember my spoiler warning.) Elizabeth figures out who Simon is and what he’s after and she decides she wants a piece of this, so she makes a deal with the group for a share of the take if she can help Simon figure out where the painting ended up. From there, the story turns into a bit of a mystery of what really happened to the painting, who is on what side, and how did this all really happen in the first place. You will be surprised.
Really A Top Notch FilmAs I said, this is a Danny Boyle film. I actually didn’t know that when I went in, but I see it now that I know. Boyle has a strong style that employs witty dialog, great use of color and music, a solid eye for images, and solid pacing to all of his scenes. All of those things are at play here. Boyle sometimes has an unfortunate penchant for drifting far left in some of his films, but this one is politics free, except perhaps for a bit of feminism near the end. So that’s not a problem.
The film also has a strong plot, though it’s not as profound or revealing as Trainspotting or as creative as 28 Days Later. What makes the plot so strong is three things. First, Boyle takes his time revealing his secrets. He doesn’t prematurely eplotulate onto the screen, so you will find yourself amazed throughout as the plot unfolds. In fact, at almost every turn, you learn something new about the characters and you come closer to understanding what really happened.
But third and most importantly, Boyle never cheats. In so many heist films, things happen that can’t be explained, so many holes are left ignored, and the film passes off these problems with a wink and some fake after-the-fact presentation that only fills in the holes in a broad way but aren’t things the audience could ever have guessed. This film isn’t like that. Yes, this film has some serious twists as it drives toward the ending and, no, you won’t figure it all out, but this film gives you all the clues you need to figure it out. In fact, watching it a second time, it’s shocking how blatantly all the pieces are strewn about the film. You just don’t understand their importance until later.
For these reasons, I really highly recommend this film: (1) great cast, (2) solid direction with great eye for images, (3) fast paced, (4) the twists and turns are organic to the story and are fully earned, yet they are unpredictable and change the movie in fascinating ways, and (5) the story is strong and holds your attention throughout.
Secondly, for this to feel right, we need to see Elizabeth as the victim who is justified in striking back. But that becomes really hard because of some choices the film makes. First, to make this work, she uses Franck as well as Simon and Franck becomes a very sympathetic character over time. So that doesn’t feel quite right. More importantly, however, because of her messing with Simon’s mind, Simon brutally kills an innocent woman and Elizabeth doesn’t really seem to feel any sense of responsibility for this. That makes her just as rotten as Simon, if not worse, and it wipes out the happy/sexy feel that the film tries to end upon. Thus, while the film is really well done and enjoyable up to this point, the ending is a bit jarring when it's meant to be sexy and light, and that ultimately hurts the film.