"To be yourself you have to constantly remember yourself... it's a full-time job."
For years Danny Boyle toiled away as an underrated director of some pretty great genre pictures like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting & 28 Days Later. Then a funny thing happened in 2008. A little film that he made called Slumdog Millionaire, that had been intended to go direct to dvd, became a worldwide sensation. For fans of his earlier work, it seemed to validate the faith we had in him as a director, yet also left us feeling a bit hollow since he was getting tons of recognition for what is arguably his weakest film. After another awards grab with 2010's 127 Hours, Boyle has returned to his gritty roots with his latest film Trance.
James McAvoy plays Simon, a worker at a big time auction house in London. As the film opens, he's explaining what his training has prepared him for in the event of an attempted robbery at the auction house. At the same time, a carefully orchestrated heist, headed by Franck (Vincent Cassel) is being carried out. While attempting to protect an extremely valuable painting by Goya, Simon is kncoked unconscious by Franck, who soon discovers that the painting is missing from the package he took from Simon.
When Simon comes to in a hospital room, the blow suffered by Franck has left him with amnesia, and he cannot remember where he stashed the real painting. Franck turns to a hypnotist by the name of Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to unlock Simon's memories and discover the location of the painting. But when Elizabeth gets wise to what's really going on, she wants in on whatever take the stolen painting will net them when Simon remembers where he hid it.
The thing that works best about Trance is its simplicity. Although the film is a maze and information is doled out bit by bit over the film's short 100 minute running time, it's a remarkably simple heist film, and that, more than anything else, makes it work so well. There's the usual camera trickery and funky camera angles we've come to expect from Boyle as a director, but he keeps things small and never strays from the main plot of recovering the stolen painting.
Boyle is the kind of director that can rely too heavily on fancy footwork to distract from his lack of substantial content, but he doesn't do that much here. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of odd & interesting work being done, but it's all in the service of the story. The editing on the film, done by Jon Harris, is brilliant as well, often cutting for maximum comedic or suspenseful value. When the plot finally comes together in the film's climax, it's edited brilliantly, making the multitude of reveals (some of which were a tad ridiculous) come together in a wholly satisfactory way.
James McAvoy is as dynamic an actor as there is working today. He reminds me so much of a young Ewan McGregor, and has all of the same vitality and versatility that McGregor possessed early in his career. His character here is fascinating and he rises to the challenge of playing him as such. Vincent Cassel is also perfectly cast in the film. He has a sleazy charm as an actor and Boyle puts that to great use here. Rosario Dawson is perfectly fine in the role, but doesn't really grow into the character until her last few scenes.
Ultimately, I think the reason the film works as well as it does is because it has a great screenplay. Joe Ahearne wrote the script, based on his story, with frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge. Hodge wrote almost all of Boyle's early screenplays, through The Beach, and will be returning to collaborate on the Trainspotting sequel Porno. This is a tightly written script, full of great dialogue and sly reveals, and it's a huge part of the reason the film succeeds.
One of the highest compliments I can pay the film is that I can't wait to see it again. By the time you get to the climax and the reveals start piling up, it will make you want to go back and see the film knowing how everything shakes out, and see what you missed. That's the mark of a great thriller, and I feel confident in saying that's what this is. Granted, it's a bit preposterous, and requires your faith in hypnotism as a genuine science in order for it to work, but for me it worked great. You may not love the film, but I can guarantee you'll at least be entertained by it, and when all is said and done, that's what a movie is supposed to do.
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]