Simon, a fine art auctioneer, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars, but after suffering a blow ...
Rating: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language
Length: 101 minutes
Released: April 5, 2013 Limited
Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Tuppence Middleton, Sam Creed
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
The rapid editing, wide-angle compositions, garish colors, slice-and-dice chronology and electronic music that director Danny Boyle uses for his shiny new art-heist hypnosis thriller, “Trance,” are signatures of his style.
As Boyle demonstrated with his previous feature film, these techniques can transform even the story of a man pinned between rocks for “127 Hours” into a psychedelic delirium.
One character in “Trance” refers to the Spanish artist Goya as “the first great painter of the human mind,” and it’s clear that Boyle in his new film also is attempting to “paint” the human mind, or, more specifically, the confused memories of the story’s sometimes-hypnotized hero, Simon (James McAvoy), a worker at a London fine-art auction house mixed up in the daring theft of Goya’s 1798 masterpiece “Witches in the Air.”
Boyle’s beautifully crafted, hyperkinetic storytelling is alternately annoying and bewitching. You may feel your eyes turning into pinwheels, like the lenses of John Lennon’s glasses in that famous poster — a not-inappropriate reaction for a film involving hypnosis. Yet Boyle’s showboating has none of the impact of the film’s most memorable image, a simple, sudden full-length shot of Rosario Dawson, as bare as a Renaissance Venus. This is a startling example of cinema’s original and still-unsurpassed special effect: the human figure. The penance for enjoying this shot comes later, when a gun is fired almost point blank into a thug’s crotch.
A sleek, modern update of such equally improbable hypno-noirs of the past as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945) and Otto Preminger’s “Whirlpool” (1949), “Trance” is a puzzle film, in the relatively new tradition of “The Usual Suspects,” “Memento,” “Shutter Island” and “Inception.” Scripters Joe Ahearne (a BBC -TV veteran) and John Lodge (who worked on Boyle’s excellent early films, “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting”) have given the story more twists and turns and double crosses than a Boy Scout manual of knots, and untangling them becomes a bit of a chore. “To be yourself, you have to constantly remember yourself — it’s a full-time job,” says sexy Harley Street hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson).
Elizabeth enters the film when she is enlisted to probe Simon’s mind at the urging of Franck (Vincent Cassel), the ringleader of a gang of art thieves. These specialized criminals are trying to recover “Witches in the Air” from Simon, who can’t remember where he hid the painting, thanks to a blow to his head during the robbery. Of course, Elizabeth’s cranial spadework unearths other secrets, too — so many that the viewer ceases to be surprised by the revelations.
The director of photography on “Trance” was Anthony Dod Mantle, who also shot “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) for Boyle; that film won Oscars for best picture, director and cinematography, making it the first movie primarily shot on digital video to earn those honors. (That’s a trivia question soon to be replaced by: “What was the last movie shot on film to win a cinematography Oscar?”) Many images in “Trance” are fractured or reflected or distorted via glassy or metallic or semitransparent surfaces; Dod Mantle and Boyle seem to be making a pun, asking us to “reflect” on the reality of what we’re seeing. Their field day might have been more fun for moviegoers if unraveling its mysteries felt less like what Elizabeth called a “full-time job” and more like a lark.
“Trance” is exclusively at Malco’s Ridgeway Four.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence and profanity.