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Published: Friday, April 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

'Trance': Danny Boyle ditches moral uplift in fun thriller

  • James McAvoy is an auction-house employee who witnesses a robbery but loses his memory of it in "Trance."

    Susie Allnutt / Fox Searchlight

    James McAvoy is an auction-house employee who witnesses a robbery but loses his memory of it in "Trance."

A guy wins a couple of Academy Awards, and he might get all hifalutin' on us -- you know, might be tempted to make a movie about the human condition, a soaring tribute to the individual spirit, something like that.
Danny Boyle went beyond that. After he pulled his Oscar-winning trick with "Slumdog Millionaire," he not only made one of those human-spirit things ("127 Hours"), he even directed the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games in 2012.
So it is with some relief to report that in his new movie, "Trance," Boyle has got all that stuff out of his system. (Not that people shouldn't make movies about the human condition, but it can lead to some serious overreaching.) "Trance" is down and dirty and faintly ridiculous, and also pretty fun to watch.
Boyle returns to the suspense mode of his early film, "Shallow Grave." This one's set in a more glamorous world, however, the realm of high art and high theft.
Plot information should be divulged at a minimum, but here's the gist of it. James McAvoy plays an employee at a tony London auction house who's on the job one day during an attempted robbery of a valuable Goya painting.
Knocked silly during the heist, he needs the help of the world's most attractive hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) to recover his memory of the crime, and an important clue.
The hypnotist is dragged into the intrigue that follows, as is the mastermind of the theft, a silky gangster played by Vincent Cassel. There are other characters (including some amusing henchmen) but this threesome is at the heart of the tricks and double-crosses that unfold.
This being a Danny Boyle picture, there must be some technical razzle-dazzle, and he and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle have indeed dreamed up fancy settings and a bit of flash.
I always wonder, even in those Boyle movies I've liked, whether the director indulges this tendency because deep down he isn't quite sure whether he's got a solid story to begin with.
And frankly, "Trance" isn't solid. The action is paper-thin, and all three actors appear either confused or not quite up to the cleverness demanded of them.
McAvoy, late of the "X-Men" franchise, is looking oddly tired for a guy in his early 30s, but French star Cassel (who's been on an English-speaking roll lately with "Black Swan" and "A Dangerous Method") at least shares his innate aura of shiftiness and menace.
It doesn't come off, but I enjoyed "Trance," which revels, with a certain unholy gusto, in its Hitchcockian situation and its surprisingly frank approach to nudity and sex. Nobody will be giving out Oscars for this one, but it's got some kick to it.
"Trance" (3 stars)
Danny Boyle cooks up this down and dirty thriller about an art robbery that implicates three people: an auction-house employee (James McAvoy), a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) and a thug (Vincent Cassel). There's not much to this faintly ridiculous scenario, but it's flashy and fun to watch while it's going.
Rated: R for nudity, violence, language.
Showing: Guild 45th, Pacific Place, Thornton Place.
Story tags » Movies

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