Trance is really two movies: the buildup and the payoff. The former is far superior, an elegant head-games heist noir with style in spades. The climax? Could have gone in any number of directions and kind of a let down where it landed.
James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer with intimate knowledge of the security measures taken to protect multimillion-dollar masterpieces from no-gooders. "We have precautions, they have plans," he says of the good-guys-versus-bad-guys dynamic in voiceover. Precautions include Ukrainian commandos at the ready, though Simon suggests, "No piece of art is worth a human life." The one with the plans to nab Goya's painting Witches in the Air is Franck (Vincent Cassel) and a crew of ruffians.
The film opens with the elaborate heist. Simon foils it and spirits away the painting. Franck coldcocks him, giving Simon a brain injury bad enough he can't remember where he hid the painting. Which is a problem because Franck is willing to pull fingernails out to get the information Simon can no longer access.
The movie's very movie solution? Get a hypno-therapist to prize out the memories! Enter Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) and lines like, "We keep secrets from ourselves; we call that forgetting."
But this is the awesome part of the movie. It's mercury slick and shot by director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle with a rainbow palette and ebullient lighting. The plot turns into cons upon cons times a thousand as Simon, Franck, and Elizabeth struggle for superior position and allegiances (seemingly?) shift.
The film also enters Simon's headspace, with Elizabeth as his spirit guide. Just where did that painting wind up? Elizabeth seems to be a femme fatale archetype: She can get men to do her will just by suggesting it to them.
In a way, Trance is anachronistic. It seems like a mid-1990s cinematic artifact — like it's been sitting on a studio shelf waiting to be produced — frenetic as if it hadn't been done before, propelled by techno beats and pop visuals but with a cynical, sarcastic, violent underbelly. It's a movie that seems to be rebelling against some old guard filmmaking that is no longer relevant. It brings to mind, naturally enough, Boyle's and writer John Hodge's pre-millennial works Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and A Life Less Ordinary.
Resultantly, the final shape the film settles into is kind of old-fashioned. Trance is not as trippy or mind-blowing as it could have been, containing a few shocking and pointless gory moments, and with one or two fewer twists than an audience might expect from this kind of movie in 2013.
But for a long spell, you want to see where McAvoy and especially Cassel and Dawson are going to take you. It's a willing, participatory suspension of disbelief. Then you get there — you wake up and wish the dream had been a little better.
Opens Friday, April 12th