“No piece of art is worth a human life” is a refrain in “Trance,” and what a sweet, callow, tainted, full-throttle rush it is: art and artifact blend to narcotic, exhibitionistic effect. Danny Boyle shot the film before embarking upon his mad London Olympics opening ceremony with its dense, cracked vision of the Industrial Revolution, and then edited it afterward. The interruption seems to have inspired the director of “Slumdog Millionaire” to further accelerate his adrenaline habit: the result is busy, bonkers, low down and a treat I was pleased to duck and swoon through on a dank gray Chicago spring afternoon. James McAvoy plays a fine-arts auctioneer with underworld pressures who appears to rig a bold inside-job heist of a painting up for auction, a 1798 oil by Goya called “Witches in the Air.” (There are at least two jolting art-history frissons among the movie’s many baubles, one involving a cathedral hung with dozens of great, thieved, missing, vanished masterpieces, and a cheeky bit involving the advent of pubic hair in art history.) When things go astray, amnesia is inserted conveniently into the script, and top wronged gangster Vincent Cassel insists he see a hypnotherapist, who might be able to help him remember more than where he left his keys. Since the good doctor is played by Rosario Dawson, it might be more appropriate to call her the hy-hy-hy-hy-hypnotherapist on call: Dawson and Boyle are up to a challenge of what she said about her nudity in “Alexander,” when asked how that fit into her politics, something akin to, “When I have grandchildren, I wanted to be able to show them how hot granny was when she was twenty-eight.” Do I want to tell you about the scene(s) in question? Yes, yes, I do. Will I? No, no, I won’t. It is simplest to say the bits in question would galvanize the “To Live And Die In L.A.”-era William Friedkin, and how! The mélange of plotting and the density and relentless peppiness of the design suggests a larky alliance of Greenaway and Almodóvar. Along with mirrors endlessly reflecting (the possible absence of) inner lives, there’s also a wealth of scenes drawing on stagecraft, including translucent surfaces as scrims that use lighting for highly stylized shadowplay. It’s snout-to-tail filmmaking, and Boyle even uses the squeal.
Still, the plot is like a dribble of mercury on a glassy surface, only less deadly: things happen, double back, triple back, unhappen, recur. It’s vivid bosh, with bursts of tone-crushing violence. Co-writer John Hodge and Boyle’s first collaboration, “Shallow Grave,” had a darkly moral punch largely missing in these candied pyrotechnics, but no complaints about the caper play from these quarters. Underworld’s Rick Smith composed the volume-at-twelve score, throbbing, grandiloquent headphone-ready bass-filled aggro-swells that are rhythmic barrage from start to finish. (I swear even the Fox Searchlight fanfare was sweetened and boosted at the beginning). The visual flash is fragrant, tipsy, refracted, prismatic fun, although the less patient may recall prior films like the original “Thomas Crown Affair” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (There’s also a quick shot of a bloody full breakfast fry-up that winks back to Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.”) 101m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Trance” spellbinds Friday at theaters including River East, Landmark Century, Northbrook Court, Yorktown, Naperville, Cinemark Evanston. A trailer is below. (Avoid the “red band” trailer, which contains a mean lot of spoilers.)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.