Danny Boyle's new movie Trance is one of those reality-bending films that constantly has you wondering if what you're seeing is real. It takes some deserved flak for being more concerned with plot machinations than characters, and boy does that plot go in some ludicrous directions, but if you're the type of person who likes the tick-tock puzzles of movies like Inception or Timecrimes, I think you'll enjoy it. And if you don't, it would still probably fall under the not wholly depressing category of "Interesting Failure." Personally, I've been in a bit of a lull when it comes to keeping up with new releases, so I found this one to be engaging and energizing in a way that most 2013 releases have failed to achieve (though, true, I have been woefully neglectful of a lot of movies I probably should have seen).
The movie opens with a bang, an art heist, complete with an "inside man" (Simon, played by James McAvoy) who manages to stash the stolen painting away from both the authorities and the criminals. Alas, it appears that during the heist, Simon gets a rather nasty bump on his head and claims amnesia. The criminals, lead by Franck (Vincent Cassel), attempt to extract the location of the stolen painting via some rather intense torture, but eventually decide that Simon's amnesia is real. This leads them to consult a hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, who they think might be able to extract the location of the painting. But Elizabeth has ideas of her own, and you begin to wonder if she's really uncovering lost information... or is she implanting information for her own purposes?
That's a pretty raucous mashup of cliches going on right there. You've got the heist (of notoriously impossible to fence artwork no less), you've got amnesia, and you've got hypnotism, the latter of which drives you to constantly question what you're seeing on screen (there's more tropes to be had here, especially as the story starts to really twist and turn). It starts off plausible enough, saunters into ludicrous territory, which would be bad if it didn't rocket past that phase and into some next-level bonkers stuff towards the end. As previously mentioned, the characters are rather thin here, and there's not really enough there to provide the required weight to the plot, particularly when you reach the very end (there's a relationship there that I think it's hard to buy).
That being said, Danny Boyle's propulsive, visually striking style certain keeps things moving at a fast, entertaining pace. So while the characters may not have been fleshed out as well as I'd like, I did find myself fully engaged at all times. While Boyle's style doesn't completely make up for ridiculous plot points or thin characters, it does elevate the film beyond simple schlock. The pounding soundtrack also works really well here. The performances are solid all around, but extra credit goes to Rosario Dawson's fearless performance here. She's channeling that sultry femme fatale archetype, but as it turns out, she might be the actual heroine of the story too, and she plays it well. Dawson has some nude scenes too, and not mere glimpses either. I suppose you could say that the nudity is integral to the plot, though it's a pretty big leap. Not that I'm complaining.
Ultimately, I enjoyed it for what it was: an outlandish thriller with preposterous twists and turns that were nonetheless completely engaging and entertaining. I had a lot of fun with this, but then, I tend to enjoy these sorts of reality-bending puzzle movies. Fans of more character-based drama may come away unfulfilled, but I had a good time and it's a film that's stuck with me for a couple weeks now. ***