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Review: 'Trance' captivating, hypnotic mind-bender

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From his earlier work with "Trainspotting" to his Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" and nominated "127 Hours," it almost seems that director Danny Boyle wills great films to happen, and his latest, "Trance," is no different. Once again, the filmmaker realizes brilliance, this time with a mind-bending crime thriller that is captivating from start to finish.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, a fine arts dealer who begins the film by explaining the hazards of the trade -- namely the daring thefts that often take place during the auctions for some of the most revered pieces in the world. It's a great lead-in to the latest heist of a $5 million Goya painting, led by an underworld fencer named Franck (Vincent Cassel). Soon we come to learn that Simon is silent player in the crime, but in his role of attempting to stop the brazen effort, Franck delivers a fateful blow to his head.

As it turns out, the concussion Simon has suffered is so severe that amnesia has set in, and unbeknownst to the thieves, he hid the painting in place that he can't remember. After some graphic, torturous moments where it's clear Simon isn't lying about his amnesia, he starts seeing Elizabeth (Dawson), a hypnotherapist who realizes the arts dealer is there for much bigger reasons than trying to remember where he lost his keys.

With millions of dollars at stake, Elizabeth ferrets out Simon's involvement with Franck and his partners, and together, they embark on an odyssey to peel back the layers of Simon's subconscious mind -- which we learn through flashback scenes and repressed memories of a much more volatile time in his life, is much more complicated than anyone could have expected.

See the trailer for "Trance" below.

Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Boyle's work knows the director has visually stylish storytelling sensibilities, and with "Trance," the filmmaker again manages to tell the story in a fascinating manner without complicating it too much for his audience. Boyle sets up a series of character facades and false plot leads so flawlessly throughout, that it's thrilling to see all the twists and turns unfold in an intelligent story that is anything but predictable. It's far more sophisticated than your standard art heist picture.

Interview: "Trance" star Rosario Dawson

Behind it all, of course, is the fascinating practice of hypnotherapy. The great thing is, matter your thoughts are on its effectiveness of it -- some audience members no doubt will be more skeptical than others -- Boyle makes a convincing case for its power here. If you're willing to believe, one might even argue "Trance" is so effective that Boyle in a way is practicing a bit of cinematic hypnosis with this movie.

Filled action, thrills and intrigue, "Trance" would be nothing without his perfect trio of leads. McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson all deliver big in "Trance," and as much as you think you know each of the characters, don't count out any of their potential motivations.

Dawson is especially brilliant as Elizabeth, as she transforms from a seemingly dowdy hypnotherapist into stunning temptress who makes the atmosphere combustible every time she appears on screen. Her presence is for the lack of a better word, hypnotic.

Get ready for a serious mind trip.

"Trance," rated R, 3 1/2 stars out of four.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt in his 3 star Pioneer Press review feels Boyle is "a little too tricky and too obsessed with keeping us guessing," but also calls the film "dazzling, clever fun."

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune calls the film a "dizzying trip to dreamland" and "an artful experiment in refined sadism and mind control" in his 3 1/2 star review.

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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