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Dawson solid but can’t save convoluted ‘Trance’

Friday, April 12, 2013
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Rosario Dawson and James McAvoy star in the intentionally confusing “Trance.”
Rosario Dawson and James McAvoy star in the intentionally confusing “Trance.”

“Trance,” director Danny Boyle’s attempt to step into Christopher Nolan-esque mind-bending territory, contains elements from most of his previous films.

Characters break the fourth wall and address the audience directly, as in “Trainspotting.” The film’s visual style is sleek and shiny and energetic, like in “Slumdog Millionaire.” Good guys and bad guys keep switching hats until you don’t know who to trust, as in “Shallow Grave.”

And in its final third, “Trance” finally collapses into a pile of preposterous silliness, as Boyle’s “Sunshine” did. The movie reunites Boyle with his former frequent collaborator John Hodge, who wrote “The Beach” and “A Life Less Ordinary” for him, among others.

‘Trance’

DIRECTED BY: Danny Boyle

STARRING: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani and Matt Cross

RATED: R GRADE: C–

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

You would think it had taken something wonderful to reunite the pair, but no. “Trance” feels like a movie that was made only because the Oscar-winning Boyle had the clout to make it on a modest budget. It’s a self-indulgent bauble, and when you play it back in your head, the story makes less than zero sense.

At least it’s never boring. James McAvoy stars as Simon, an auctioneer at a fine art museum who collaborates with a gang of thieves (led by Vincent Cassel) to steal a valuable Goya painting being auctioned.

But during the heist, Simon bumps his head and blacks out. When he wakes up, he can’t remember what happened afterward — and can’t explain why the briefcase supposed to be containing the painting is empty.

This does not sit well with his criminal pals, who force him to see a renowned hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), to help him remember where the artwork went.

The plot of “Trance” is purposely convoluted — you’re supposed to get more and more confused as the story unfolds, not always sure if what you’re watching is a dream. But unlike, say, “Inception,” which expertly played with levels of consciousness and reality, “Trance” is nearly impossible to keep up with, because everything in the movie is essentially a build-up to a big reveal, so very little that happens actually matters.

Fortunately, there’s Dawson. From the moment we meet her, we know there’s something up with Elizabeth. But whose side is she on, and what does she really want? The actress, whose looks have rarely been more seductive, and who speaks in a measured manner that draws you in, is the film’s secret weapon.

Boyle’s camera dips and swirls, with bursts of violence and ghastly sights (including one, the film’s best, that was ruined in the trailer). But all the action, slick and professional as it is, can’t compete with Dawson’s performance, which exudes a kind of calm aura, a seductive confidence and an inviting, take-my-hand quality that practically puts you in the eponymous trance. She’s never been better: Too bad she’s not good enough from keeping this nutty movie from exploding into shards of colorful nonsense.

 
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