Grade: C +
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassell
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.
A friend once said he held a special affinity for Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear because “it feels like Scorsese just having fun.” The same could be said for Danny Boyle’s Trance, his return of sorts to crime thrillers like his 1994 feature debut, Shallow Grave. But Boyle’s budgets and filmmaking collaborators have changed over the years, including regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (28 Days Later..., Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). The consequence is a slick, self-assured oeuvre that, in Trance, Boyle dares to juxtapose against van Gogh, Rembrandt and Delacroix. Unfortunately, the film also mirrors a piece of modern art that holds less discernable meaning the longer you stare at it.
Introduced through a chorus of lens flares, synth bass and recital of his professional duties, Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer working at a London-based auction house that’s robbed by Franck (Vincent Cassell) and his cartoony gang. Simon suffers a blow to the head during the heist of Goya’s “Witches in the Air,” briefly obfuscating the fact that Simon is complicit in the caper, the consequence of mounting gambling debts he owes Franck. Moreover, the trauma also gives Simon amnesia so he forgets where stowed away the priceless painting.
After crude means of interrogation prove fruitless, Franck turns to hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who quickly realizes Simon isn’t there to find his missing keys but instead the missing artwork. And she wants her cut.
An generally taut heist flick soon leaps down a psychological rabbit hole, as Elizabeth’s repeated therapy sessions provide more insight into Simon’s backstory. But everything from the storyline to the characterizations are subsumed by Boyle’s stylism. Elizabeth is too self-assured; Franck’s patience and panache belies the portrait of a seedy British gangster. As Simon devolves into a nervy knot of neuroses, Boyle at first blurs, then obliterates the line between reality and fancy.
Trance feels like a film made by someone auditing a community college course in hypnotherapy by day and watching Inception on repeat every night. It’s captivating to look upon, and I’m not (just) talking about Dawson’s frequent nudity. The photography and camerawork are polished, the cast is capable (even when their characters are miswritten), and electronica score by Underworld’s Rick Smith propels Boyle’s frenetic pace. But once you manage to catch your breath a moment, the incongruities and illogic crowd out the visual acuity.
As the false endings pile up, there’s the chatty Big Reveal that ties up the loose ends...except it doesn’t. Boyle’s marriage of art and psychoanalysis implodes into an indulgent morass of mixed motives and plot twists. At one point, a character is given the option of pressing a button on a computer screen that will enable that person to “forget everything.” Bleary viewers of Trance won’t require any such assistance.
*Originally published at Indyweek.com