The heist picture “Trance” — a movie about memory, the mind and manipulating both to find some “lost” stolen art — gets a few head-game twists from director Danny Boyle.
James McAvoy is Simon, trusted employee of a London auction house. On the day they put a pricelss painting under the gavel, thieves attack. But Simon is on the case — following company protocol to safeguard the art.
Only he didn't. And when he took a conk to the head as the robbery went down, he lost his memory of where he stashed it.
That has the gang led by Franck (Vincent Cassell) in a tizzy. They're tearing up his apartment, tracking him down. And when enhanced interrogation methods don't help, they turn to a hypnotherapist.
“Whatever's in his head, she can find it,” they say. “She” is Elizabeth, who without knowing Simon's real purpose, she sets to work — quietly, mesmerizingly putting him in a trance.
The toughest secrets we keep, she purrs, are those “we're keeping from ourselves.”
“Trance” has a pulsing energy to it during the heist and its aftermath, switching to something more serene and meditative as Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) tries to unlock Simon's secrets.
Boyle teases out the mystery and stages vivid flashbacks that we have to reason out because some are clues, are some aren't — such as how Simon came to be involved in the caper, connections between the various characters, and the shifting motives and allegiances of one and all.
Cassel, a villain's villain in the French films about the bank robber Mesrine, turns up the menace and the charm, making Franck a not-unreasonable guy who can be the very height of unreasonable when he's crossed.
McAvoy is not at his best here. I had a hard time believing anything he did or said, mainly because of his blasé reactions to the finger-nail pulling torture the character endures early on.
But Dawson (“Sin City,” “Unstoppable”) gets her best role in years as Elizabeth, despite having the water-carrying job of explaining hypnosis, the mind and her methods to the mobsters (and the audience). She adds a sex appeal and mystery to this plainly damaged woman caught up in a dangerous game.
For all its plot trickery, mind science and relationship square dancing, “Trance” doesn't have the emotional tug or technical pizazz of Boyle's best films — “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Trainspotting” or “127 Hours.”