It’s his own fault. Over the last few years, director Danny Boyle has set the bar so high, artistically speaking, that fans may feel a bit… underwhelmed by his latest offering: a tricky heist whodunit thriller entitled Trance. Speckled with his own unique visual panache and quirky in terms of narrative and character, the end result is yet another solid triumph for the man whose made a career defying convention while raking in the accolades. While not as perverse as his first film, the Hitchcockian Shallow Grave, or as trippy as Trainspotting, it’s still a work of easy invention from a man who can’t seem to make a misstep — well, at least not since A Life Less Ordinary.
James McAvoy is Simon, an auctioneer at a prestigious London house. He’s also a bit of a gambler. One day, a criminal named Franck (Vincent Cassell) stages a daring heist. Following protocol, Simon whisks a valuable painting away to the time lock vault. An armed confrontation later and our hero is in the hospital, suffering from a severe brain injury that leaves him with amnesia. Even worse, Franck has discovered that the canvas he covets is missing. Convinced that Simon knows where it is, he sends him to a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) who is convinced she can recover his memories. As things move along, however, intentions turn and, suddenly, we’re not quite sure who is the good guy, and who is the villain.
As with most mysteries, Trance is best when it’s delivering denouements. As we watch Boyle pick apart the razor thin plot adapted from a TV play by longtime collaborator John Hodge (with story and screenplay help from original author Joe Ahearne), we witness a man in full charge of his aesthetic faculties. His stunts here may be less showy than those in Slumdog Millionaire or 127 Hours, but he still manages to balance flash with the needs of the artform to deliver a wholly satisfying experience.
Are there unanswered questions and loose ends? Absolutely. Does the movie drag a bit when love and lust come into play? Certainly. Does Boyle miss a chance to go full bore and further mess with our minds by pulling back on the whole “what’s real and what’s a hypnotic suggestion” stuff? Sort of. Still, the results reiterate why this particular director is one of our very finest post-modern moviemakers.
The stumbles here and there are mostly in the casting. Dawson, for her striking beauty (and unexpected nude scenes) can’t quite capture Elizabeth’s motivational melancholy. Her issue is supposed to support a legitimate last act twist, but it seems superficial and thin. Without giving it away, hers is an odd reaction to what happened in her past. Cassell is also nothing but suave and smooth. He’s the kind of New Age gangster who prefers to play nice, that is, until pulling the fingernails off an accomplice is required.
That just leaves McAvoy and he carries the picture like a champ. His arc is important, proof that looks can be deceiving and premises even more precarious. As we watch Simon’s situation(s) unfold, we suddenly realize we’ve also been duped. Boyle has brought us in as audience members, filled us with expectations, and then giggles as he destroys them one, by one.
Call it Techno Noir, or one big cheat, but in the end, Trance stands because it is greater in sum than as a collection of inconsistent parts. Many may think Danny Boyle is merely treading well-worn cinematic water, but no one stays afloat in film like this brazen British auteur.