Trance, an art-heist movie from Danny Boyle, is a thriller cloaked in a film noir twisted into a Mobius strip and shoved into a cranny where movie amnesiacs hide repressed memories that audiences try to retrieve.
The film moves quicker than quicksilver, shiny and shapeshifting, anchored by Simon (James McAvoy), a fresh-faced auctioneer. From inside Delancy's, a swank London concern resembling a men's club lined with Old Masters, Simon recites the security protocols "in the event of an event." Namely, robbery.
"No work of art" - not even that Goya fetching more than $40 million - "is worth a human life," explains Simon, who may be less pure than he looks. Is he protecting Goya's Witch's Flight, a canvas in which the central figure staggers beneath a sheet that blinds his eyes? Or is he in league with thieves (echoing the witches in the painting), who make off with it in broad daylight?
Instead of the priceless Goya, the thieves, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel, snakily charismatic), end up with only its frame. Did Simon frame them? Hard to say, because in the ensuing scuffle, Franck decks Simon. When the latter awakes in the hospital, he can't remember what happened or where the Goya is.
And that's just the opening sequence.
The next hundred minutes zoom by like Inception on methamphetamines. If the whereabouts of the Goya are hidden in Simon's brain, then a specialist is needed to help Simon recover the memory.
To be the spelunker of Simon's memory, Franck hires fetching hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson).
Boyle frames her as a classic film noir Sphinx who slinks onto the screen with the key to Simon's mental and physical well-being. It is a testament to Dawson's inscrutability that from the moment she appears, you don't know whether she'll use that key or toss it in the Thames.
Dawson isn't the only one keeping the movie off-balance. A humming soundtrack, images where figure and reflection blur, and jump cuts like cinematic electroshock make the film positively vibrate. The screenplay from Joe Ahearne and John Hodge withholds vital information so each scene has a major or minor revelation.
But because Trance is principally about the thrill of the ride rather than the inner lives of the riders, it lacks that outlaw humanism specific to Boyle films such as Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and Millions.
In other words, it's an ingeniously built automaton, sexy as hell, and devoid of a heart.