Danny Boyle is a British filmmaker who is putting together quite the filmography. He is a artist who has range with storytelling, no two of his films very much alike. With "28 Days Later," and "Shallow Grave," he tackled the horror zombie genre, with "Sunshine" he tackled sci/fi, with "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours" he sampled potent drama and with "Trainspotting," well I don't really know what to call that. Do you see what I mean? He doesn't stick to one genre, he commits his talents in wide variety. I think we as an audience have become richer for it. Now in 2013, Boyle has given us "Trance," a shocking movie that has now become one of my favorite modern psychological thrillers.
I think this movie hit a deep nerve with me because of how important memory is to me. I know we are all guilty of forgetting important things and losing things. It is the very pinnacle of human nature that we are not at the top of our game everyday. However, one one of my grandparents had a very severe case of Alzheimer's. I learned firsthand just how terrible the disease actually is and it has stuck with me ever since. Memory is unbelievably valuable, and "Trance" really taps into that importance.
As the movie began, there were several times where I thought I knew where this was headed. There is a great opening monologue from Simon (James McAvoy) about paintings and art. I thought at first this would be a fun little crime caper that is more unusual than before. Simon is a big art guy in London who works at an art auction. At the very beginning of the movie, a four man group breaks into an auction, attempting to steal a painting. Simon tries to save the painting, but a gunman (Vincent Cassel) hits Simon on the head with his shotgun, and he is hospitalized.
"Oh!" I thought "This is going to be a movie about how Simon gets his memory back from the attack." However, when Simon gets better he finds his car and apartment broken into, and gets a visit from the gunman who knocked him out, who reveals himself to be Frank. It seems Simon was working with Frank and his team to steal the painting together, and Simon hid it somewhere. He can't remember where he hid it. So Frank hires a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help Simon remember where he hid the painting. The catch is Elizabeth figures out Simon's situation fairly quick, and she wants in on the recovered loot. "WHOA!" I then thought, "So Elizabeth and Simon are going to grow close, dupe the thieves, and run off with the painting happily ever after!" But as Elizabeth puts Simon under hypnosis, we then learn that maybe Simon and Elizabeth knew each other before the heist, yet Simon can't remember that either. At this point I stopped trying to guess where this movie was headed and decided to let it play out.
That type of storytelling, where I can't help but guess the ending of the film is what makes a great thriller. When things get nuts in "Trance" they really get nuts. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie, with my heart pounding out of my chest. A nearly two hour movie literally felt like 15 minutes, and after it was done I wanted to immediately watch it again. That is the power of great cinema and "Trance" features that power in large handfuls. A great psychological thriller really picks at your brain, really makes you think, throws out the pieces to an elaborate puzzle and forces you to put the pieces together. That is exactly what "Trance" does.
Once again, Boyle has put together a near-perfect cast. James McAvoy really milks the innocent charm out of Simon, making him a harmless quirky guy for most of the run-time. But when it is time for his character to get his hands dirty, the transition is flawless. Rosario Dawson is a modern femme fatale as Elizabeth, a role that would make Alfred Hitchcock himself impressed. I also think that Vincent Cassel is an underrated treasure, he creates great villains every-time he is in front of the camera. With his cold eyes, wicked smile and glaring features, he's truly intimidating. He throws himself at every thing Boyle asks him to do, and he deserves lots of credit for his work.
What really makes the film work is how cleverly written the screenplay is. Joe Ahearne and John Hodge put together an edgy headgame, and works more than I thought possible. I wish I could get into lucrative detail about why the movie works so well, but I am never one to spoil any fun. Get out and rent this one ladies and gentlemen, it will surprise more than you know.
FINAL GRADE: A