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Film

Trance

Danny Boyle gets trippy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Danny Boyle has made three of my favorite films of the last 20 years Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours. I’d put his new one, Trance, a notch below them, but only a notch.

This exhilarating brain-twister is a nonstop visual, aural and intellectual delight, steeped in movie conventions and yet fizzing with freshness. It’s what happens when film noir goes out to a rave.

Don’t learn too much about it before you see it. I’ll limit myself to giving away only what happens in the opening minutes. Simon (James McAvoy) is a security guard at a London auction house that is selling a Goya painting for £27 million ($41 million) when an art thief named Franck (Vincent Cassel) bursts in and seizes the painting.

Or so he thinks: Actually, the canvas has gone missing and only Simon knows where it is. Except Simon can’t remember, having sustained a head blow during the robbery that has left him with amnesia. Enter an expert hypnotist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) who can unbury any memory. Though maybe not this one.

The dazzling script by Joe Ahearne and Boyle’s frequent collaborator John Hodge has more surprises in its first 20 minutes than most films can manage in 100, but each sharp turn merely inspires Boyle to stomp harder on the pedal. Who will get the painting? Who will get the girl? Who will get half a skull blown off and just keep talking?

Trance, a title that refers to the hypnotic state several characters descend into as well as the dance music that urges the movie forward and the helpless awe in which Boyle held me throughout, has a plot similar to that of Boyle’s sinister 1994 tale of a greed triangle, Shallow Grave. But this time Boyle projects it through an Inception-style prism of subconscious fantasy. The Christopher Nolan film, though, was operatically ponderous, brooding about its own genius to the point where the audience had to clear its throat and ask, “Remember us?” Trance is pure entertainment, no study guide required.

Via the hypnotist, various characters slip in and out of fantasyland, and though I revile the way writers (particularly on television dramas) use dream sequences to eat up a couple of minutes of screen time on a cheap shock that winds up being meaningless, in Trance the characters learn essential truths by exploring their subconscious minds. Details (such as car keys) that seem meaningless keep coming back to play important roles, and to link different levels of consciousness Boyle ingeniously uses the iPad in what I believe is a new role for it in movies, one that a thousand other directors will imitate.

Boyle makes everything seem as fresh as the iPad because his great subject is youth—not, as with Steven Spielberg, childhood; the innocence of Millions, Boyle’s 2004 attempt at a fairy tale, didn’t quite convince, and he hasn’t returned to the genre. (Boyle’s next film is called Porno.)

A newspaper headline in Trance refers to Simon as the “have-a-go” hero of the art heist: That’s Boyle, perpetual chancer, always having a go. What’s it like to get hooked on heroin? Steal the prettiest girl in India from gangsters? Hop into a gorge? Let’s have a go.

We don’t learn a lot about Simon except that he’s young, but that’s really all we need to know. Boyle’s all about the race to the next rush, the completely unjustified confidence, the addiction to crazy: youth. It’s an inexhaustible well, and may Boyle never stop dunking his bucket in it. This is ecstatic cinema, the brightest, brassiest, buzziest film of the year so far.

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