Trance might very well be one of Danny Boyle's least celebrated films when all is said and done. If that is indeed the case, it's a tribute to his excellence rather than an indictment of his latest work.
The Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later ..., and Trainspotting is a member of the filmmaking elite at this point, so it baffles me that Trance was greeted with so little fanfare. It's a sexy little story that, while not quite reaching the heights of his most renowned work, is entertaining enough and features solid performances from bona fide stars in James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel.
Its conceit is that of a very twisted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meeting The Thomas Crown Affair. McAvoy plays Simon Newton, an art auctioneer who falls in with a gang of would-be art thieves that help him pay off deep gambling debts on the condition that he delivers a priceless Francisco Goya painting to their hands.
Simon himself decides to spoil the plan, keeping the painting for himself and getting a nasty knock on his head to show for it from the gang's ringleader Franck (Cassel). The knock lands him in the hospital for an extended period of time and wipes out his memory of where he has stashed the painting. When he finally does recover, Franck and co. -- understandably furious -- set about trying to help him remember, first through torture and finally through hypnotherapy.
Dawson is Dr. Elizabeth Lamb, the hypnotist who sets about trying to unearth Simon's memory of the painting. But her efforts to do so are complicated by a burgeoning love triangle between her, Simon and Franck and by Simon's loose grip on reality and his own memories.
Boyle isn't breaking the mold of a heist movie here. This isn't a brilliant character study like 127 Hours. But it's all thoroughly entertaining. You're invested in the story from start to finish, and you damn sure want to figure out just what happened to that painting -- what's real and which of Simon's memories are imagined.
Maybe I'm a sucker for Boyle's style. I dug the soundtrack and the voiceovers from McAvoy. Yes, it's kind of the same old tricks he's using. Yeah, of course it was better when it was Ewan McGregor doing it. But that sort of comparison has never stopped from enjoying another director's lesser works. So it didn't matter with Trance either.