Director Danny Boyle has an eclectic body of work, from the ferocious zombies in “28 Days Later” to the fumbling drug addicts of “Trainspotting” to the life-affirming “127 Days” to the buoyant “Slumdog Millionaire” (for which he won a directing Oscar).
But they all share traits of his style: frenetic pacing, stylish visuals, sleek tone and Boyle’s fearlessness in breaking rules.
His latest, “Trance,” which opened in limited release April 5 but opens Friday in Wichita, feels every bit like it’s his film. It’s an enthralling, trippy ride that keeps you guessing as it story unfurls, even if there are more twists than logic in the end. But it’s fun getting there.
We’re introduced to fine-art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy, “X-Men: First Class”), who is about to assist in the auctioning of an extremely valuable painting.
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Just as the bidding concludes and a winner is declared, masked gunmen burst into the room and throw gas bombs on the floor. Everyone scuttles in a panic.
But Simon is cool. As he explained at the film’s introduction, there are procedures for a potential heist, and he knows the drill: Take the painting to a predetermined safe spot.
Simon calmly puts the painting in a case and moves swiftly to a safe. But just as he’s about to safely stow the painting, he is stopped by Franck (Vincent Cassel, “Black Swan”), who is holding a gun and demands the painting. Simon hands over the case. When Franck leans down to open it, Simon zaps him with a stun gun.
Franck writhes in pain but recovers. He stands up and hits Simon on the head with his gun, knocking Simon out. Franck bolts and meets up with his criminal partners. But when they later open the case, they discover that the painting is not in there – just the frame.
Meanwhile, Simon is taken to a hospital, where he is treated for several days with a nasty head injury. When he is released, he finds his car windows smashed in and his apartment ransacked.
It turns out that Simon was in on the heist, and now Franck and his men think Simon stole the painting for himself. Having already torn apart his apartment, the men show up and take Simon to a warehouse, where they torture him to try to get information. But it’s to no avail. Because of the blow to his head during the robbery, Simon now has amnesia and can’t remember where he hid the painting.
But Frank will have none of it, thinking Simon is lying. Still, he reluctantly agrees to let Simon see a hypnotist to try to unlock the information in his mind.
Simon goes to see Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) at her office to start therapy. But Simon’s in a quandary. He can’t just tell her he misplaced a valuable painting that he was trying to steal. How does he tell her what’s really going on without having her report them to the authorities?
From there, the story twists and turns, so much so that we’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t. Revealing anything more about the plot would be a disservice.
But Boyle revels in the film’s twists and has a blast blurring the line between a “dream” world in Simon’s mind and the “real” one.
It’s fun to get caught up in it all as the film winds its way to the finale, which is a little far-strung but satisfying.
As in Christopher Nolan’s twisty “Inception,” the story in “Trance” is the star here, and not so much the characters. Which means the film lacks character development, but the performances, particularly by McAvoy and Dawson, keep us drawn in.
Boyle has crafted another fine film – one that’s not without its faults but one that is clearly his. And fans of his work will not be disappointed.