Trance (Frank’s Take) film review.

Writer-director Danny Boyle is an infectious breed of a filmmaker that does not hesitate in flourishing his colorful narratives with wild impishness, excitement and vibrant visual scope. Intensely playful and energetic, Boyle’s brand of movie-making has always been challenging in mind-bending mode. The stylistic approach runs a gamut of distinctive tastes, flavors and imagination.

In ‘Trainspotting’, Boyle demonstrated a surge of hypnotic hedonism that was both erratically stark and surrealistically wondrous. Boyle’s Oscar-winning ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was unapologetically feisty and festively intriguing with a pouncing spirit that gloriously roared. The escapist zombie romp ‘28 Days Later’ made the walking dead genre come alive with acidic spunk. Even his mediocre miscues such as ‘The Beach’ and ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ contained some introspective zest despite their formula-driven flatness. However, ‘Trance’ in its own devilish right artfully darts back and forth as a captivating caper demonstrating a sense of crafty coolness as it weaves through clever twists and turns like a provocative puzzle trying to be figured out.

‘Trance’, even though in the giddy tradition of a Boyle-inspired boisterous pot-boiler, does have its occasional lapses that are quite telling. Sometimes it is a hot-to-trot heist flick that tries to grab more than it can chew in terms of its purported slickness. The frenetic pacing at times feels choppy and rambles on but for the most part, ‘Trance’ is engaging when it stirs the pot while offering a trippy experience. The ambitious ‘Inception’-coated thriller pushes the brainwashing buttons as Boyle is allowed to apply the cynical jolts to this dream-like display of deception.

The sleepy-eyed boyishness of James McAvoy (‘Welcome To The Punch’) is played effectively as he portrays sophisticated London auctioneer Simon whose affiliation with a band of criminals (led by Vincent Cassel’s ringleader Franck) labels him the inside man at the posh art-auction house where he is employed. Obviously, Simon is the pulse behind whether or not his crooked comrades can successfully get their hands on the highly valued Goya painting that sold for hefty millions.

Naturally, Simon is trained to protect the precious artwork in the case of a robbery. For the Goya masterpiece, Simon instinctively carries this painting off to a safe place just as the place is being robbed by Franck and his conniving crew. To make the heist look authentic, so that no one knows that Simon and crime mastermind Franck are on the same law-breaking page, the former resists the latter during a confrontational scuffle. Specifically, Franck applies a heavy blow to Simon’s head in the so-called takedown. Of course, the whack to Simon’s skull would prove tragically comical.

So what was the outcome? Inconveniently, Simon experiences memory loss and cannot figure out where he placed the costly Goya that was the basis for the planned heisting. Franck and the gang have nothing to show for their botched efforts but the frame to the Goya painting. In taking drastic measures, Franck recommends that Simon go see a hypnotherapist to see if his memory can be jogged if they want to benefit from the multi-million dollar art item.

Enter sultry Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, ‘Sin City’). She is on the scene to repair Simon’s damaged instant recall. At this point, the audience starts to wonder what kind of topsy-turvy world Boyle is developing here at this stage of the sordid game. It is not long before the audience starts to question the pivotal players at large.

What was actually behind the motive of Frenchman Franck bopping his English cohort Simon other than the guise of a phony struggle made to look real? What is American hypnotherapist Elizabeth doing in London where she happens to be the chosen one to tap into Simon’s tainted unconsciousness? Quickly, there is a curious need to question the step-by-step procedures of these shady individuals and their hidden agendas. Is there anybody worth trusting when there is a hot Goya painting at stake for the taking? Just how forthcoming is Simon with his memory malfunction? What can Elizabeth gain from learning the trapped tidbits about what she is ordered to unravel from Simon’s wounded noggin? Can Franck and his fellow thieves settle for sharing in the riches or divide amongst themselves?

Boyle uses the viewers’ inquisitive minds as mincemeat when serving up clues that are either misleading or smacking you right in the face of obviousness. ‘Trance’ works its magic when we are taken on a madcap ride through the plot-hopping obstacles that allow the second-guessing instincts to unfold. Audacious, wickedly observant and involving, ‘Trance’ can be dismissed as an elaborate gimmick of sorts. Still, it is a gimmick that is fortified with visceral verve.

The vitality of the performances is naughtily spirited that helps along the methodical madness of the material. McAvoy is charmingly mischievous and conveys a complicated cad with a mixture of icy conviction and “aw shucks” likability. Cassel’s Franck balances the tables as both a warped comical force and scary specimen. Dawson has never been riveting as the mind-manipulating diva whose sexiness, sophistication and smarts allows her flexibility as possibly the most promising protagonist of this troupe of tricksters.

Boyle gives ‘Trance’ an ambience of penetrating suspense courtesy of Rick Smith’s soothing musical score and the crisp cinematography of Oscar-winning Anthony Dod Mantle (‘Slumdog Millionaire’). Flamboyant yet slightly flawed, ‘Trance’ is a spell-binding spectacle as only Boyle knows how to deliver with noted irreverence.

Trance (2013)

Fox Searchlight

1 hr. 41 mins.

Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and Matt Cross

Directed by: Danny Boyle

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Mystery & Suspense/Psychological Thriller

Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)

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