Director Danny Boyle dives deep inside the human psyche to look at what makes people act the way they do -- whether it be for love or just the inherent passion to survive -- with movies like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours." He loves to take his characters to clear thresholds where they must decide the right courses for them to accomplish their goals.
Boyle's latest film, "Trance," continues that approach, but it becomes far more complicated because he weaves fact and fantasy together so tightly it's hard to tell where the thresholds exist. Such manipulation could have been off-putting, but the story is so compelling that following each thread of this twisted tapestry becomes a journey of discovery for the characters and the audience.
It all starts simply enough: "Trance" is the story of an art theft gone bad.
When a painting ends up missing after a failed robbery attempt, the thieves try to find out from Simon (James McAvoy), who is in charge of the painting's security, what happened to the artwork. An injury during the robbery has left Simon with no memory of what happened. The last hope is to send him to see Elizabeth Lamb, a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson), to see if she can unlock the information.
"Trance" would have been a rather mundane heist story had Lamb been able to quickly recover the memory. What makes the film so intriguing is that because her initial attempt fails (or seems to fail), Lamb goes deeper and deeper into the minds of both Simon and the head of the robbery gang, Franck (Vincent Cassel).
These mental maneuvers from screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge become so overlapped and crisscrossed that it's hard to tell what's happening in the real world and what's happening inside the mind of one of the men.
This is where Boyle's skills as a director keep the movie from falling apart. He manages to provide clues as to which moments should be remembered and which should be ignored. This movie can't be watched passively -- and would be best with multiple viewings -- if you have any hope of finding the right path to take you to the end.
Boyle also makes this journey work because of the strong cast. Both McAvoy and Cassel turn in first-rate performances. But it's Dawson who provides the focal point that keeps the movie from spinning out of control. Playing Lamb takes Dawson to some very revealing -- both emotionally and physically -- moments that work because of the confidence the actress brings to the role.
The writing is crisp and the acting on target. Had either faltered, "Trance" would not have been as memorable.
"Trance," rated R for language, violence, nudity. Stars James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel. Directed by Danny Boyle. Running time: 101 minutes. Grade: B
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.