2 out of 4 stars
Determined to work within every genre before he's through, director Danny Boyle tackles the heist thriller with "Trance" -- and with mostly uneven results. With a predilection to value style over substance, Boyle's movies have always looked good but like his quasi-contemporary Oliver Stone, his recent efforts tend to blur into each other. He figures if he shoots from enough different angles on a multitude of stocks and edits them to death, the audience will forgive the slight nature of the stories.
As fertile as the heist subgenre is, there's very little one can do that hasn't already been done before -- and usually better. The lead character may or may not be on the level and often pulls double duty as the narrator. We witness the crime in its entirety early on minus one or two key pieces which are eventually revealed late in the final act and are meant to be revelatory. Like all thrillers, the success of the heist movie lies in the believability and logic of the twists. "Trance" has a bunch of twists but not a single one of them makes a lick of sense or are any fun.
It won't be giving too much away to reveal that London auction house employee Simon (James McAvoy) is a gambling addict and deep in debt to the wrong kind of people. He's figured out a way to pay them back and make a profit in the process but it will involve him taking on partners he doesn't know, who are equally as unforgiving as his shady creditors if not more. At an auction for a painting worth roughly $40 million, Simon's cohorts create a distraction and he scurries away with the painting.
A tiny glitch results in Simon being knocked-out by gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) in the middle of the theft and, in an only-in-the-movies kind of way, Simon develops amnesia and forgets where he's hid the painting that he has apparently stolen from the thieves. After gruesomely removing most of his fingernails, Franck is pretty sure Simon is not lying and decides to enlist the talents of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to work her magic and find out the location of the painting. As crime thriller setups go, this one is kind of weak, but writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge (adapting Ahearne's 2001 British TV movie of the same name) sell it well enough to get us to go along with it, at least for a while.
As good of an actor he is, the amiable and very likeable McAvoy was the wrong guy for the part of Simon. As the narrative progresses his character goes from being deeply sympathetic to downright loathsome, but little if any of this is McAvoy's fault; he's merely doing what he's asked. The biggest problem -- and what ultimately becomes the final deal-killer -- is the introduction of contradicting plot details in the third act; a major thriller genre no-no.
Cassel, on the other hand, is perfect for the Franck character. As he has done in previous productions ("Black Swan," "Eastern Promises" "Irreversible"), his high-beam blue orbs, flared-nostrils, dangerous suave air and tiger-like coiled intensity are ideal for evil foil types. If he reminds you of Michael Fassbender while you're watching the film, it will be for good reason -- Fassbender was cast but dropped out shortly before filming began. But the Franck character also goes through some odd retooling in the last act that often negates most of what we've already seen.
Also not the first (or second or third) choice for Elizabeth, Dawson -- a thoroughly stunning woman with a cinnamon-honey voice -- looks perfect for the part but is saddled with spouting almost all of the stock and rote psychobabble often written for cinematic head doctors. If every hypnotherapist was as effective so often and as fast as Elizabeth, they'd be hailed as miracle workers.
If Boyle wishes to cross parody off of his bucket list, all he would have to do is take the "Trance" screenplay and tweak it only slightly. This film gets as close to self-mocking as any in recent memory. (Fox Searchlight)