James Smith’s quick-fire insight into the world of movies.

Here he checks out Trance, an art heist movie with a big dose of amnesia and some mind-bending plot twists.

Directed by Danny Boyle

James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

In Trance, Danny Boyle conjures up a trippy slant on the heist movie theme. One could anticipate parallels to robbery capers such as Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven or recent art heist movie, Doors Open, with Stephen Fry. But no, not a hint of similarity... nada. This is Boyle taking us on a head spinner of his own making, with of course, some help from writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge.

If there is a near-standard component of this film, then the opening is it, with the attempted robbery of a Goya painting worth millions. James McAvoy plays art auctioneer, Simon, who we believe has the gallery’s interest at heart by following procedure when the heist is underway. Things go wrong, however, when he tries to be a hero and taser art thief, Franck (Vincent Cassel) in the neck. Stunned and dead angry, Franck promptly replies with the butt of his shotgun to his head. Simon’s amnesia and subsequent confused mishmash of images and flashbacks is all familiar territory covered in many thrillers. But what happened to the painting that Simon was supposed to be escorting to a safe area? Well, with a head full of blurred recollections, he cannot remember... and Franck is not too happy. This is where Trance shifts into a realm of second guessing, mistrust, and paranoia - not only for the characters within the film, but the audience too. Never knowing what to believe or why, the suspense is predominantly built on intrigue, though the violence and graphic nudity certainly raises an eyebrow or two.

Bored with pulling Simons fingernails out, Franck suggests hypnotherapy as an alternative and comes up with what looks like the equivalent of some dodgy internet classifieds on his tablet computer. Just by chance, Simon picks out gorgeous stunner, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who not only delves into the complexities of Simon’s mental condition, but also ups the interest in the nudity stakes. But can she get Simon to remember what happened to the painting?

It all seems rather unlikely and even more abstract than one of Goya’s masterpieces. The interaction between the thieves, Elizabeth, and Simon, becomes convoluted and farfetched, but it is fun trying to guess which way Elizabeth’s allegiance will sway - and more importantly, who she’ll hop into to bed with next. Nevertheless, the melding of reality and hallucination makes this film work; an artistic licence to tell an improbable, fanciful story. The techno-ambient soundtrack and use of colour are Boyle trademarks that steer this film clear of Brit flick territory and make for a gripping brain scrambler. There’s even a pyrotechnic finale to keep action aficionados happy. McAvoy is excellent as the wayward auctioneer who has enough vices and foibles to keep hypnotists and psychotherapists in employment for years. His depiction of an obsessed nutjob is, well, scarily real. Charismatic Vincent Cassel adds menace to the story, as do his band of boneheads who thankfully don’t adopt the ‘Lock Stock’ stereotype.

Overall, Trance is an adventurous study in plot dynamics, and though difficult to fathom at times, ultimately absorbing.

Review by @jsmithwriter