A hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) is hired to help recover a lost painting stolen by a fine art auctioneer (James McAvoy).
Danny Boyle reckons that if the events in his new thriller Trance unfolded chronologically, the identity of the villain would be obvious. Perhaps, but the director and his screenwriters John Hodge and Joe Ahearne deliberately set out to bamboozle, bedazzle and trick audiences by darting back and forth in time and interweaving reality with hypnotic states, false memories, deceit and nightmares.
a deeply unsatisfying, barely coherent and pretentious mess
The result is a deeply unsatisfying, barely coherent and pretentious mess, rendered in gaudy colours with jagged editing and a thunderous techno soundtrack, all of which are clearly meant to overpower the senses; in the end I felt frustrated and cheated.
After directing the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony, 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle evidently felt he needed to get back to his roots with a visceral, violent work that has echoes of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave.
Unlike the grungy look of those early films, Trance is set in shiny, affluent London, a high rise apartment, a posh Harley Street consulting room, and a hangout wryly entitled 'analog London".
There are three main characters, all sporting varying shades of venality and immorality. James McAvoy is Simon, a fine art auctioneer with a chronic gambling addiction, Vincent Cassel is Franck, a ruthless gang boss, and Rosario Dawson is hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb.
Deeply in debt, Simon teams up with Franck’s gang to steal Francisco Goya’s 1798 oil canvas Witches in the Air, reputed to be worth £25 million. During the heist Franck whacks Simon on the head and gets tasered for his trouble. When Simon awakes in hospital he has a case of partial amnesia: he can’t remember where he stashed the canvas.
Franck’s goons grab Simon and torture him in one of many grisly scenes, which proves unhelpful, so he’s sent to see Elizabeth in the hope that she can delve deep into his subconscious and jog his memory. From this point, the director and screenwriters endeavour to keep the audience guessing as to the motives of each of the trio, but the relationships that develop between Elizabeth and the two guys are bizarre and utterly unbelievable.
It’s no fun, and less than compelling, to watch three devious, unlovely and selfish people try to manipulate and outwit each other while Boyle plays his mind games and garbles the storyline.
None of the three has an exterior life so each operates in an artificially created, moral vacuum – a nearly insurmountable challenge for the cast. McAvoy alternately rages, sulks, sweats and looks perplexed as his character is led down a tortuous path. Cassel, who is blessed with looks that often make him the bad guy, tries to imbue Franck with a skerrick of decency, and fails.
Boyle originally intended to cast his 28 Days Later... co-star Naomie Harris as Elizabeth when the plan was to shoot in New York. Best known for her action roles in Sin City and Death Proof, Dawson is an interesting choice. She’s far sexier than Harris but she struggles with a character that starts out as strong, smart and cool and resorts to using her feminine charms.
The recurring theme of amnesia is quite apt. If you see Trance, I wager you will soon forget it.