Dave White
Trance Review

Dave's Rating:

4.0

Spellbound

Welcome to Not-Austerity England. It's a place that thrives in the mind of Danny Boyle, a gleaming fantasy zone that exists right here and now in spite of all news reports to the contrary, a place where it's punk rock to be rich and hypnotherapists wear Margiela in gigantic offices and people take post-sex dips in heated lap pools on the terraces of their crime-apartments. It's an even better version of Posh Spice unreality than, say, the kind of cutely smug comfort offered in alluring Williams-Sonoma catalogs like Notting Hill, because in Boyle's neverending Cool Britannia people are still in danger of being set on fire, machete'd or just plain old tripping balls well past the point of recreational amusement. It's almost a big F.U. to the idea of too much money and it's awesome to be here.

All the plot you're going to get: A famous Goya painting worth millions has been stolen from the fancy auction house that employs Simon (James McAvoy, his face recalling the innocence of Mr. Tumnus, his actions more in line with the White Witch). Head of the heisters is Franck (Vincent Cassel, who may be contemporary cinema's most actualized embodiment of Euro-slime), unamused when the painting is mysteriously intercepted along the way. During the robbery, Simon receives a nasty blow to the head, impairing his memory of the incident, so off he goes to hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, whose voice is its own chill-out room, making her perfect for the part). From that moment on it would be wise of you to trust no one who speaks because the base definition of lying through one's own teeth doesn't even begin to describe the characters' motion-sickness-inducing zig-zag of deception, greed and vengeance.

Like with his first feature, Shallow Grave, Boyle's talent here is a dense sort of sensory overload in the service of making these people not simply agreeably despicable but a well-dressed sort of horrible, cool icons of aspirational amorality. The director and his team of visual/sonic collaborators make everything whoosh and THUMP-THUMP-THUMP like an early 90s hardcore rave. The camera twists its way down corridors and escalators, pauses to frame hardened criminals as silly comedic pawns or in poses that seem to refer to the same Old Master paintings they're slicing out of frames with box cutters, indulges in fantasies of extreme violence and re-aestheticizes a very specific sort of full frontal female nudity as a non-exploitive plot kink. It's a kind of slutty stylishness that throws everything at the audience and mocks them for not keeping up. You can't believe the people you're watching but you can trust the filmmaker. Boyle is a man, after all, who made being a stone junkie seem like a viable style decision. His world is gleefully bleak, a comedy of pessimism and the worst possible life choices: you don't want to live there for all the money in the world, but it's a pleasuredome blast to visit.

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