Trance is the type of film you shouldn't know too much about before watching, so please excuse the vague tiptoeing I'll be doing here. Loosely, the film is a thriller constructed around the flexibility of memory and the untapped potential of hypnosis. James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer who finds himself involved with a group of dangerous criminals anxious to recover a targeted missing painting. The work is Francisco Goya's curious Witches in the Air, a piece that depicts a man in the midst of being spirited away (or torn apart) by a gaggle of male witches. There's more to it than that, of course, but the subject matter seems quite relevant to Simon's plight. Torn from his seemingly average life, Simon finds himself tortured and carted around by the criminals searching for the painting. He was the inside man. He was supposed to make things easy. Instead, the Goya disappeared. They believe he knows where it is, but a nasty blow to the head has left him with no access to those memories. Head honcho Franck (Vincent Cassel) decides to wire Simon and send him for hypnotherapy sessions in a last, desperate bid. Simon sits in Elizabeth Lamb's (Rosario Dawson) office and falls under her gentle spell, the boys wait outside, ready to pounce. From there, the film transforms from your average heist thriller to a rich, dizzying unraveling of our accepted reality.
The characters grow in surprising ways, aided by the actors' (McAvoy, Cassel, Dawson) understated abilities to play up initial genre archetypes and, therefore, ease us into something other than the dizzy free fall we're about to enter. In that respect, Trance reminded me quite a bit of another thriller released this year: Side Effects. Both work within certain modes while actively pushing against expectations, and each yields a sort of guilty pleasure level result aided by bouts of weird, lurid sex and violence. Though neither is the type of film a director would roll out come awards season, each is smart and satisfying if only because it seeks to frustrate some unwritten cliche. Trance announces, for me, a return to form for Danny Boyle. It's risky, raw, colorful, and fractured; imperfect, but damn entertaining.