Monday, April 8, 2013
I'm always intrigued when I see Rosario Dawson's name on the cast list of a new movie. She has a nose for quality scripts, from "Shattered Glass," "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," and "Unstoppable" to a couple of undervalued gems: Ed Burns' "Sidewalks of New York," which snuck onto my top-ten list in 2001, and last year's underseen college-reunion comedy "10 Years." Dawson has seen her share of dogs, but often her presence sends the signal that there's something more to a movie than you might think.
Happily, that's the case with "Trance," which may be my favorite film by the notoriously hyperactive director Danny Boyle. Dawson stars as Elizabeth Lamb, a London hypnotherapist chosen seemingly at random by David Maxwell (James McAvoy) to help him remember where he's placed his car keys. Only it turns out that David isn't David but Simon, an art auctioneer, and he's misplaced not his car keys but a 25-million-pound Goya he walked out with as part of an inside job before being hit by a car and whacked over the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the alpha dog of the pack of thieves who staged the fake robbery that generated the hysterical panic that made the real robbery possible.
Elizabeth quickly uncovers Simon's real identity and purpose and conspires with him to get the painting back. (She plays a taped recording of herself murmuring hypnotic inanities for Franck and his gang to hear on their wiretaps, then communicates silently with Simon in writing.) The plot of "Trance" is elaborate and ingenious - Boyle is not merely kissing to be clever - and full of opportunities for visual and technological showmanship. The images of London, bathed in neon and night, create an ambience of fear and dread. The strands of the story resolve satisfyingly and with coherence. McAvoy has never struck me as a distinctive or especially talented actor, but he's serviceable here, and Cassel, while not called upon to show the greatness of which he is capable, enriches Franck with surprising depth and tenderness.
But the picture belongs to Dawson. There is about her, among many other qualities, a matter-of-fact sexuality, one that seeps into every frame of the film, one that she does not overplay and does not need to. Thanks to her, "Trance" is sexy and funny and - yet again - better than it probably has any right to be.