This review was originally published on TopicalTodd.com 4/14/2013
At their core, most heist movies focus on characters fighting for control whether it’s the criminal protagonist’s looking to hold control from the target or each other. Trance, the latest from director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) is as fascinated with how it’s characters respond to losing that control as how they behave when they have it. Built around this fascination is Boyle’s most kinetic and exciting ride since 2002’s 28 Days Later with all the colors, electronic rock and dutch angles expected from the director.
The film opens on Simon (James McAvoy), an auctioneer and security officer at a high class auction house which specializes in selling high-priced art to the wealthy. In an excellent sequence with narration reminiscent of Trainspotting’s “Choose Life,” opening – the film was co-written by John Hodge who’s reunited with Boyle for the first time since Trainspotting – Simon explains the auction house’s security measures. Rather than plant these details in the audience’s mind for a heist sequence in the film’s final sequence but in a refreshing choice we see them play out immediately after. A group of robbers led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) steal the Francisco Goya painting, “Witches in the Air”, fully aware of every security precaution. Only when Franck meets up with his gang in an abandoned warehouse, the painting is gone.
Turns out Simon was in on the heist and after a scuffle for appearances leaves him unconscious, he can’t remember where he hid the painting. This reveals the true brilliance of the opening heist that should place it among the best scenes of the year, come December. On first viewing there is no sense of that information is left out for more information to be revealed later and when the film gives more information the audience doesn’t feel cheated for the sake of a plot device.
In order to find the painting’s location, the group enlists the help of Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) a hypnotherapist whose patients range from those looking to curb their eating habits or need the courage to end an abusive relationship. She suspects there’s more to Simon’s problems and soon gets caught up. She’s smarter than her character might be in lesser films and after a quick Google search, she works her way into the search for the painting.
This is only the first quarter of the film, though it’s enough to sustain two movies. Boyle’s more kinetic work is often described as a “ride,” and that’s an apt description here. Audience opinions will change from scene to scene. With each twist comes a change in who has control and some deal with it better than others. That goes for the performances as well. It’s a wonder that both Dawson and Cassel give the film’s best performances and their characters deal with the twists in very similar ways. McAvoy’s character, however requires the broadest range. He’s very good at playing overwhelmed and his performance forces you to reconsider him as an actor, though many are indifferent on him going into the film. Though like the rest of the movie, he never stops moving and if the audience follows that behavior, it’s a blast.