Danny Boyle is one of my favorite filmmakers of the last twenty years. His unique style and ability to work in different genres have not only earned him critical praise and awards, but have shown that he has limitless talent to entertain a wide variety of audiences across the globe. With his latest film, Boyle has made a modern noir movie with so many twists and turns that you’ll eventually give up trying to figure what’s going on in the story, and fall into Boyle’s ‘Trance’ of betrayal, thievery and sex in this art heist thriller.
The main focus here is on an auction house employee named Simon (Jame McAvoy), who’s in cahoots with three criminals to steal a painting from the 1700s by Goya, which was auctioned off for over $41 million. In an elaborate scheme to pull off this heist, Simon’s partner in crime Francis (Vincent Cassel) hit him in the head with a shotgun, leaving Simon in the hospital for a few days with a case of amnesia. The big problem is that Simon hid the painting before making the handoff, and now can’t remember where he stashed it.
After a bit of brutal torture on Simon, Francis and his two thugs believe that he has no idea where the painting is, and tell him to seek hypnosis therapy to trigger his memory. He seems to choose a random name out of the phone book and winds up at American therapist Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who figures out quickly that Simon is in trouble and that his cohorts are listening in on their sessions secretly. Dr. Lamb convinces the group to join for hypnosis sessions and, after she realizes what’s at stake, insists on an equal cut of the prize.
From here, things spiral out of control into a frenzy of betrayal, lies, sex and regaining painful memories that seem to advance the story about who’s really in charge of this whole set-up. For the most part, Dr. Lamb seems to be in control, as she’s the one conducting the therapy sessions. Things get a bit comical when Francis’ thugs are hypnotized and showcase their biggest fears. Dawson’s performance of Dr. Lamb might be her best role to date. She exudes so much confidence and commands a very powerful presence that we fall under her spell and are never cured.
McAvoy and Cassel turn in some brilliant work in their very flawed but emotional characters. Particularly, Cassel at first seems to be just a basic criminal out for money, but there’s more to him than just greed, and we really come to sympathize with him. That’s what Boyle does so well here. He captures the very human side of an epic crime, while we’re thrown into a maze of deceit and blood that we may never come out of. The camera tricks and use of stylized colors here make every character pop and show their very different sides and motivations, from Dawson’s full frontal nude scene to McAvoy’s descent into madness.
There has never been a heist movie told quite like this before. Even though we might not know what the hell is going on until the final moments of the film, it’s a gut-wrenching visceral experience, one that you won’t soon forget.