Here's the thing: British director Danny Boyle's flashy, colourful, fast-moving style that so entranced audiences in the "cool Britannia" era of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting has become an albatross around his neck. Never mind that some of his subject matters seem to practically demand that approach (the Alex Garland-scripted genrefests 28 Days Later and especially the criminally underrated Sunshine, still my favourite of his films), his most popular films were examples of style overriding substance with pretty shallow results (127 Hours, the bewilderingly popular Slumdog Millionaire).

     Hot on the heels of his Olympics extravaganza, Trance is a perfect fit for Mr. Boyle's glossy, breezy visuals: a heist movie turned into a shifty thriller that constantly doubles back on itself to reveal new layers, but whose far-fetched implausibility demands a hyper-confident, sleight-of-hand assuredness that keeps the plot going while not taking itself overly seriously. Enter the director and his crew of regulars (DP Anthony Dod Mantle, editor Jon Harris, composer Rick Smith of the band Underworld), ready to deploy every trick in their book to make the viewer forget how outlandish the crime plot is while having an entertaining time at the movies. In many ways, Joe Ahearne's original plot, reworked by Shallow Grave/Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, is a sort of less fantastical version of Inception's mind games: after an elaborate heist on a Goya painting goes wrong, the amnesiac accomplice (James McAvoy) is pressured by the ruthless ringleader (Vincent Cassel) into hypnosis therapy to unlock the suppressed memory of where he hid the painting.

     Mr. Boyle uses that situation as a central point from where he weaves an ever-spinning web that obfuscates as much as it reveals, shifting the onus of believability onto the shoulders of the actors. While Mr. Cassel's lithe, coiled intensity and Mr. McAvoy's barely-repressed powerlessness are spot-on, it's Rosario Dawson, in a star-making performance as the hypnosis therapist who becomes an invaluable accessory to the plan, that steals the film from under their feet and unlocks the hidden layers of the plot - above and beyond the demands of the script. Nobody is going to mistake Trance for a classic, but Mr. Boyle has gone on record saying he wasn't looking to make one - just exercising his chops in a slyly exciting, bumpy thrill ride. That's exactly what Trance is.

Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge, from a story by Mr. Ahearne
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle (colour, widescreen)
Music: Rick Smith
Designer: Mark Tildesley
Costumes: Suttirat Larlarb
Editor: Jon Harris
Visual effects: Adam Gascoyne
Producer: Christian Colson (Fox Searchlight Pictures, Pathé Productions, Cloud Eight Films, Decibel Films in association with TSG Entertainment, Ingenious Media, Indian Paintbrush, Big Screen Productions, Down Productions and Ingenious Film Partners)
United Kingdom/USA, 2013, 102 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 9, Lisbon, April 9th 2013


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