A meaty, fascinating story is splintered into three plot strands that battle for the viewer's attention, so while the film is never boring, it's also oddly uninvolving. Fortunately, it has an excellent cast and is shot with skill and a relentless intensity to feel like a big, epic-style dramatic thriller with heavy political overtones.
After a scene-setting prologue, the story starts in 1953 Moscow, where Leo (Tom Hardy) is a war hero now working in the military police, purging the city of its spies. Or at least its suspected spies. In the Soviet socialist utopia, crime officially doesn't exist, but Leo finds it difficult to tell his best pal Alexei (Fares Fares) that his 8-year-old son was killed in a train accident when he was so clearly tortured and murdered. Ordered by his boss (Vincent Cassel) to let it go, and menaced by his rival colleague Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), Leo continues investigating, resulting in a reprimand that sees Leo and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) relocated to the the grim industrial city of Volsk. But when another young boy's body appears here, Leo gets his new boss (Gary Oldman) to see the connection.
There are at least three main plots in this film, and the filmmakers oddly never allow one to become the central strand. There's the mystery involving this brutal, unhinged serial killer (Paddy Considine) stalking boys along the railway. There's the thriller about Leo being brutally taunted by Vasili, who has a thing for Raisa and is trying to crush them for good. But the only emotionally engaging strand is Leo and Raisa's complex marriage relationship, which takes a couple of unexpected turns. Along the way, there are several action sequences shot with shaky cameras and edited so they're impossible to follow. And there's a sense that the film also wants to be a grandiose Russian epic with its expansive cinematography and big orchestral score.
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During the Second World War, many Russian men were able to make a name for themselves as heroes. Returning home to their victorious country, many discovered that the Communist utopia they had fought to defend may have been more fictitious than they originally thought. For Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), this truth comes harshly. Having become a hero for his efforts in the war against Germany, Demidov is given the job as a secret policeman. But when he comes across the case of a potential serial killer that hunts children, his superiors refuse to acknowledge the crime, maintaining that they live in a perfect world. After being exiled from Moscow for refusing to drop the case, Demidov must search for the real truth behind the killings, despite knowing that the truth could be dangerous.
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Danny Boyle is obviously having a ball with this thriller, deploying every cinematic trick he can think of to throw the audience off the track. But sometimes too much of a good thing is annoying. And while this film holds our interest, it also reveals early on that we simply can't trust anything we see on-screen. So while it's expertly shot and edited, and the actors make the most of their shifty characters, it's not easy to just sit back and enjoy the show.
McAvoy stars as Simon, an auctioneer presiding over the sale of a £30 million Goya painting, which promptly goes missing after an elaborate heist. Simon suffers a head injury in the assault, and can't remember anything, which is a problem when it turns out that he was working with criminal mastermind Franck (Cassel). Now Franck and his goons (Sapani, Cross and Sheikh) want to know where the painting is, so they enlist hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to help Simon recover his memory using a series of unconventional methods. But she wants her share of the cash.
Yes, the further they travel into Simon's mind, the stranger things get. McAvoy has little to do here but look dazed in between moments of lucidity that generally spark something horribly violent. Opposite his understated performance, Cassel can hardly help but be a lot flashier as a menacing charmer. And Dawson has a fierce presence as a woman who quickly takes control of every situation she's in. Although Dawson also has to contend with a couple of leery nude scenes that go further than what was strictly necessary.
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Simon is a successful auctioneer of fine art who gets tracked down by a ruthless gang of organised criminals after an extremely valuable painting seen at one auction gets lost. He is subject to brutal torture as they fruitlessly try to uncover the artwork and he finds himself teaming up with the professional hypnotherapist Elizabeth to access the information in his brain that he can't quite reach. His life depends on him making the right choice between forcing himself to remember and letting himself forget the location of the painting but soon he finds that reality, suggestion and general delusions are becoming distorted putting more than just his life at stake, but also his sanity.
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When he was a baby, Ambrosio was raised by Capucin monks in a Spanish monastery. He becomes a devout monk and, as an adult, his sermons are among the most popular in the country, if not the most popular. However, most of his fellow monks are jealous of Ambrosio's success.
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Set in Vienna before the start of World War One, Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud, is employing some of Freud's techniques on psychoanalysis to treat a patient at the Burgh"lzli Mental Hospital, a beautiful Russian woman called Sabina Spielrein, who has repressed paternal issues.
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Nina has always strived to be the best dancer in the New York City ballet company she belongs to, driven by the company director and her mother, Nina starts to feel like she's moving in the right direction. When the company decide they're going to perform Swan Lake, the director, Thomas Leroy, must choose a girl to play the innocent White Swan and one to play the Black Swan who's an altogether darker character.
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