The Blood-Red Streetlamps of London
Danny Boyle
James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
The Setup: 
Guy steals painting, forgot where he put it.

My favorite thing about this movie is that the green label for the first trailer said that it contained "grizzly" images. Yes folks, the American level of education really has gotten THAT bad. This got decent-enough reviews as something silly but fun, and we know that Danny Boyle is going to deliver something excellent-looking and professional, so after a while my movie buddy and I decided we might as well check it out. Key in this decision was that the last two things we had seen together were Upstream Color and To The Wonder, so something fun and with a conventional narrative, and, you know, dialogue, seemed pretty welcome.

So we open at a Sotheby's-like auction house where James McAvoy as Simon explains the security system and what happens if there is an attempted theft. Soon enough, there is an attempted theft, by Vincent Cassel as Frank, who stops Simon before he's going to slip the painting into a secure slot, but Simon takes a taser and hits Frank, then Frank uses his rifle to give Simon a concussion-causing thwack. Then Frank makes it away and finds--he's got the frame, not the painting. So once Simon finally gets out of the hospital, Frank calls him up. Soon you realize--they were actually working together, part of the same heist. Which makes you wonder why Simon tazed Frank, when Frank's his buddy. But Simon can't remember where the painting is, even after they rip out his fingernails, so they're going to hire a hypnotist to get it out of him. Which leads them to Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth.

After the first session, she investigates him on the Internet and finds out his link to the missing painting. She promises to help Simon get free of Frank, but is soon being very friendly with Frank and crew. It then goes on for a while with her doing this and that, and all sorts of hypnotic yadda-yadda, and they have to do this and then they have to do that, and. in retrospect I'm not sure the purpose of any of it. What we notice is that the movie is extremely colorful and gorgeous-looking, with tons of smooth, reflective surfaces and crisp, wet images and large areas of brilliant color. So much so that by the end, the look and tone of the film becomes a large part of its content, and it's all done so well that the look and tone can reasonably pass as content.

Eventually it turns into a love triangle between Simon and Frank over Elizabeth. We are pretty sure that Frank just wants to get the painting and then kill Simon, but then Frank tells Simon (during one of the grizzly images) that actually Elizabeth is calling all the shots. There are scenes that happen, and then you find out that they haven't actually happened, and scenes where there's a person, but the character in the scene is seeing another person. But despite what the trailer would have you think, it's never really trippy or unnerving, although it does keep you guessing, and drops little clues in your way. It's also the rare movie that makes a plot point out of a shaved vagina.

So in this paragraph I'm going to tell you the ending, so if you don't want to know--and not knowing is a key pleasure of this film--you will want to skip past the spoilers now. Bye! Love ya! Okay, so it would hap that Simon and Elizabeth knew each other, and had a relationship, a year and a half prior. He's the one who introduced her to the painting, and he idea of keeping her vajayjay hair-free. But he became jealous, and then possessive, and soon started turning violent. So she hypnotized him to forget her completely. But, as a lovely parting gift, she also dropped in the suggestion that he steal a painting. Now, I love art, but personally, I'd take a large lump-sum cash payout if I had that kind of power, over a painting I'll never be able to sell, much less display. But that's me. Anyway, he was bringing the painting to Elizabeth when he got hit by a car, and lost his memory of what happened.

The biggest whopper is that the thugs would think to turn to hypnosis (not traditionally the first option for thieves, but what do I know), and that they would just happen to come upon Elizabeth, of all hypnotherapists, and that Frank would give Simon a concussion, which is credited with jarring all these crossing mental threads and setting this whole thing in motion.

So while it's fun, and you don't feel cheated, the movie depends entirely on multiple coincidences and even more highly unliklies. Which, in a way, is part of its charm. Ultimately, if you have a mental puzzle picture, one would prefer that it all make sense, but another option is to be so fun that you don't care whether it makes sense (The Prestige), another option is to seem like it makes sense but be so complicated that you don't care about going back to figure it out (Headhunters), or it can happen (The Fountain, say) where it might make sense but the movie is so annoying as a whole you just want it to fuck off. I suppose there are numerous other variations. The point here is that it makes sense, it's just that the sense it makes is unrealistic, but you don't care much because that's not the point and it was a decent amount of fun.

And one comes away with the impression that none of that is really the goal anyway, so much as the style and color and textures, all of which give good eyeball massage. Personally, I had no idea that the freeways outside London were lit with blood-red streetlamps, but I applaud the aesthetic choice. A lot of things just plain look amazing, and when that starts to merge with the stuff about not being able to trust what you're seeing or the characters are thinking, it becomes part of the content. The climax is a visual orgy with lots of striking visuals and a billion reversals and suspense moments. Boyle should try making a 3D movie, and find a story slightly more suited to his excess of style.

So, pretty good, a fine time at the movies, but not much more than that. I personally was hoping for something a bit trippier or mind-bending, but what's here is fun enough and won't leave you bummed after movie night. Although you won't be on cloud 9, either. Insert pithy closer.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, it's pretty good, though you might just save it for a solid watch at home.