Just like people, movies are more interesting when they don’t fit a particular type. The director Danny Boyle won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” a love/gangster/game-show flick that left us smiling despite hints of pedophilia and torture. “28 Days Later” is a modern zombie classic whose key moments feature no zombies, and whose zombies aren’t even dead. “127 Hours” was thrilling even though it took place mostly in a crack in the ground.
“Trance” is Boyle’s latest brain buster, and it’s completely nuts. It looks like a heist flick in all the ads, and it starts with a heist. When Francisco Goya’s “Witches in the Air” comes up at posh auction house, the painting garners a fortune of a final bid just before gangsters storm the room with guns and gas grenades. A security man named Simon grabs the painting and stashes it, then gets cracked in the head so hard by one of the thieves that he wakes up without knowing where he put it.
Enter a sultry hypnotist, played by Rosario Dawson in what’s got to be her best performance ever. Exit any notion of predictability. “Trance” starts as one thing and ends as something else entirely. In between is a lot of stylized direction by Boyle.
Boyle’s movies are nonlinear athletes. “Slumdog Millionaire” had three different actors playing each major part, because the story kept jumping timelines. (“Amitabh?!”)
Boyle told Jon Stewart he kept a chart on the set of “Trance” for the actors, so they could keep the story straight as they worked. There are scenes where a character is hypnotized, watching himself watch himself on an iPad screen.
It’s scarier than horror to watch the violent culmination of all the film’s events. The characters in “Trance” are alpha-doggish uber-adults, and their story mixes murder, profound greed, mind-blowing sex (most of the actors get naked) and feelings so powerful they’re better left forcibly forgotten. Boyle manages these emotions like a maestro, with fast cuts and a pulsating score and recurring images we barely notice we’ve noticed until everything falls together in a goosebump-inducing finale that thrills like only the best art can.
It’s not for everyone. “Trance” is weird, and mean, and parts of it are hard to watch and even harder to understand. What a trip, though. It’s hard to say what it is, but I know for certain what it absolutely isn’t, not for a second: boring.