Before recommending “Trance,” it’s probably important to explain that most people probably won’t care for it. It’s easy to lose track of the time sequence of the movie. The plot teeters on the edge of incomprehensibility. The movie is sustained by an unlikely premise, stretched to the level of implausibility. “Trance” tries at every turn to throw off its audience, like a feral bull trying to buck a rider.
My advice is to hang on if you can, because “Trance” isn’t selling its plots or its narrative twists, it’s selling a wild, kaleidoscopic cinematic experience that defies logic or common sense. The ride is intense, while it lasts.
Admittedly, “Trance” is more likely to appeal to a certain kind of viewer. For instance, it has the trappings of a heist film, and I am sucker for heist films. There’s also a cat-and-mouse con game that stretches the length of the film, and it’s never clear who is the cat and who is the mouse. If you’ve seen David Mamet’s excellent “House of Games,” you have some idea of what I’m talking about. But the genre allusions here are just cinematic bait in a way like a candy shell around a dangerous, hallucinatory drug.
James McAvoy plays Simon, an art expert and auctioneer at an upscale London auction house who helps engineer the theft of a priceless Goya painting for a gang of professional thieves. While the job went mostly right, Simon at the last minute decided to change up the script and make off with the painting by himself. Simon’s erstwhile partner Franck (Vincent Cassel) bashes him on the head with a rifle butt, and when Simon comes to, he can’t remember what he did with the painting.
So is this just another cliched groaner about amnesia? It seems even sillier when Franck, after torturing Simon a bit to make sure he isn’t faking it, decides that Simon might uncover the painting while under hypnosis. Enter Elizabeth, the stunning and provocative hypnotherapist played by Rosario Dawson. She quickly discovers that Simon is at the mercy of a gang of thugs, and offers to help by joining the conspiracy.
Mr. Cassel and Miss Dawson are electric in their scenes together. Mr. McAvoy does a fantastic job playing a man trying to unlock not just a few lost facts from his memory, but his entire identity. “Trance” plays with the idea that there’s something unstable or at least highly malleable about personality and self-image, but not in any memorable way. There’s some claptrap tossed around about why the Goya in particular is the object of the art heist, as part of a rather scandalous subplot.
The mind-play begins with the casting choices. Mr. McAvoy, a likable bright-eyed Scottish actor, typically plays good guys. Mr. Cassel, best known to American audiences for playing the conceited, priggish burglar in the second “Ocean’s” movie, comes off as supercilious and mean. Miss Dawson radiates sincerity. It’s easy to believe that she has the power to guide people in and out of hypnotic states. But no one in “Trance” is playing to type — not exactly. Instead, director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) conceals his true aims behind these superficialities. The first half of the movie lulls the audience with the trappings of a conventional thriller, while the second half explodes like a supernova.
CREDITS: Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge
RATING: R for violence, profanity, and unusually lurid nudity
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS