warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

'Trance' Mesmerizes

Catherine Green |
April 9, 2013 | 1:15 p.m. PDT



James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson star in this trippy thriller. (MovieWeb.com)
James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson star in this trippy thriller. (MovieWeb.com)
“Leave.” The audience hears this trigger command plenty from hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb, played by Rosario Dawson in Danny Boyle’s “Trance.”

But with the film’s engrossing plot and mesmerizing performances by a well-chosen cast, it’s the last thing they’ll want to do. 

A series of bad decisions leads London-based art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) to fall in debt to a group of thugs lead by Franck (Vincent Cassel). When Franck’s crew tries to pull off a high-profile art heist, things go wrong and the target, Francisco Goya’s “The Witches’ Flight,” goes missing, right along with Simon’s memory of what happened to the treasured painting. Pleas of “I can’t remember” won’t get him off the hook with his nefarious new friends though. They enlist Elizabeth’s hypnotic help to bring back the memory, and she becomes increasingly entangled in their underhand dealings. “You decide to remember,” she says to Simon in a low, steady voice during their many sessions. But as bits and pieces resurface, and new possible threads emerge, it’s unclear whether any of them is prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision.    

Rosario Dawson shines here as sherpa into Simon’s psyche. She’s ahead of Boyle’s plethora of plot twists, sliding smoothly between her character’s shifting motivations as they become apparent to us. While the men around her fall under her spell — Dawson even manages to make schoolmarm blouses and a colonial braid alluring — Elizabeth takes advantage of her position of power at nearly every turn. She’s the fulcrum in every lurch of the scale when either Franck or Simon thinks they gain the upper hand. They need her. Elizabeth has her moments of weakness, but a backstory of rising above abuse helps put these into context without letting her character fall into flat victim territory.

With a soft exterior and determinedly ‘90s heartthrob hair, co-star James McAvoy runs his own risk of becoming a damsel in distress. In some ways, his character at the beginning of “Trance” is much like his Wesley in “Wanted” — down to the fumbling and whimpering as his life takes a series of turns for the worst. The various transformations in his latest rendition of the reluctant anti-hero are a bit more believable though. That might be because they’re most often driven in “Trance” by emotion, primal reactions to his fate getting jerked around by a charismatic baddie.

Is there anyone better than Vincent Cassel to sidle up to that casting call? Hints of his performance as demanding director Thomas Leroy in 2010’s “Black Swan” waft up every now and again, but this works just fine for the part. Cassel brings something more to the standard villain — there’s a heartbeat beneath his menacing demeanor. Even before we find some sympathy for the character, we’re led, willingly, into Franck’s underworld. His natural habitats make the film’s set work another highlight. We split time between daylight shots of his nightclub lair, a neon sign “analog LONDON” lighting up the wall, or we’re muffled inside his sleek penthouse with frosted glass panels and a casket-like swimming pool located strategically close to the bedroom. 

Boyle’s films are usually among the more visually stunning examples to come out each year — even “Trainspotting” was a sensory treat at times. “Trance” doesn’t have quite the same eye-feast appeal as “Slumdog Millionaire,” but subtle choices in focus and color work to high impact here. Carefully executed blurred shots are on point to guide us through a reality constantly reversing and revising — rarely do we know for sure what’s real and what isn’t until the final reveal and satisfying conclusion. Smaller revelations come hushed in close scenes of dialogue between actors lit up by white light against blue-tinged backgrounds. Red and orange seem to filter in during especially high-drama moments. These crescendos are heightened by Rick Smith’s original score — sort of a throbbing homage to Depeche Mode that keeps us keyed up for the choice bursts of action without shredding our nerves for the full 101 minutes. 

That running time speeds by for the audience. With Boyle at the helm, these moving parts, thoughtful effects and sound performances make for an ideal psychological thriller. Truly, this is the result we expect when we pay $15 or more for the latest mindbender. The trick appears to be infusing plot twists with enough emotion to make us care about the outcome, all the while splicing in grim and sultry details to keep us on the edge of our seats. Aspiring directors should consider “Trance” the new paradigm, a piece of work to be studied and revered like the famed painting at the center of its eddy plot.

Reach Editor-in-Chief Catherine Green here. Follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.