After Danny Boyle hit National Treasure status directing the Olympics opening ceremony, he created this exercise in brain-tomfoolery and divided critics sharply. Now I can see why. The tale of an auction house employee on an inside job to steal a Goya should have been a win-win, with high expectations of cross and double-cross, plus the odd surprise twist. While we certainly get this, we unfortunately get something more problematic – a script that quickly takes you past caring for anyone.
James (Ewan McGregor-Lite) McAvoy tries to stop the art theft but it’s already obvious he’s on the inside. When he awakes in hospital with amnesia and no painting, his fellow-crooks (including Vincent Cassel) make him hire a hypnotist to find out what happened to it. Naturally the doctor is the beautiful Rosario Dawson, and now the double-crossing ensues.
If that had been all, it would have been fine. Great locations include Hoxton and Borough Market (stunningly night-lit) and the astonishing apartment across the road to me, which has no exterior windows and a lap pool. The sound design is amazing, if a tad relentless, cinematography is dreamlike but very self-conscious. But the script, which requires the viewer to retroactively study the plot again, is deeply flawed. If McAvoy (unlikeable here) is the hero – and presumably he’s meant to be because he narrates on-screen – then the audience is kicked in the teeth by the climactic twists. If Dawson is meant to be something more than just desirable (she has plentiful nude scenes) then we have to like her, which is equally hard given the various twists.
Boyle’s aim is to wrongfoot you about what’s real and what’s dreamed, but to do that we need to be very clear from the outset about certain elements – who we like, who we mistrust, who is moral or immoral – and by blurring every line we’re left in a kind of limbo. All of which is highly entertaining, but makes us feel that the characters are mere puppets to the scriptwriter’s whims, so we can’t believe anything that anyone tells us. As a result, there’s not one believable human being in the film, and the suspension of disbelief required to make the confection work is simply too high. Nice soundtrack, though, and it does remind you what a lovely, quirky location London makes.