Director: Danny Boyle
This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie
Trance opens with a voiceover from Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer with a respectable London auction house. He explains the safety procedures in case someone attempts to steal an artwork, before we watch Simon botch the procedure, allowing a priceless Goya painting to be stolen and taking a nasty blow to the head in the process. The fact that the painting was stolen is the only constant we can rely on in Trance. For a film based around hypnotism, Trance requires your full focus and attention. Whether it deserves your attention or not is a different matter.
We soon learn that Simon was in on the heist all along; he was the inside man for gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel). However, the blow to the head has given Simon amnesia; this is most inconvenient when it turns out the painting went missing mid-heist. Simon can’t remember where he stashed it, so the gang employ hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to break through Simon’s mental block to find the hiding place. We’re not dealing with the multiple dream layers or mind invasion of Inception, but Danny Boyle’s follow-up to his Olympics triumph feels far more convoluted than Christopher Nolan’s film. The hypnotism begins, and thus unfurls a plot of twists and double-crosses that could infuriate as much as it engages. Why did Simon deviate from the plan? Are Franck and Elizabeth working together? Does she have an agenda? All these questions are eventually answered in a whirling dervish of colour and neon. These characters inhabit some oddly-designed abodes, but it does afford DP Anthony Dod Mantle the chance to make your eyes pop. Bright oranges, pools of sapphire water and camera flares abound in Trance. The visuals go a long way in overcoming the loop-de-looping plot. At times, it feels like writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge knew Boyle could bring the visual pizzazz, and thus the plot could contort in on itself multiple times without scuppering the film entirely. For best results, take Trance with several pinches of salt.
The cast do their best to sell the plot, too. McAvoy is a likeable everyman in the Ewan McGregor mould, whilst Cassel is all boo-hiss contempt. Dawson impresses most with a blend of caring guide and femme fatale. But which is she? Heroes and villains become interchangeable as Trance glides along, but high concepts don’t deter Boyle from his lo-fi shooting style. For all the pretty colours, Boyle’s angles and handheld work is closer in spirit to 28 Days Later and Trainspotting than the more mainstream 127 Hours or Slumdog Millionaire. From the London setting to reteaming with regular collaborators such as DP Mantle or Underworld’s Rick Smith for the score, Trance feels like Boyle taking a break from his big-budget forays to make something more intimate and local. That approach isn’t enough to ground Trance‘s increasingly loopy plot, but it offers just enough pretty little thrills to satisfy.