Trance will deceive you. At first, it is a straight up and familiar heist film as a Goya painting just sold at auction for 27 million pounds is stolen. That is just sleight of hand though; Trance’s true raison d’etre is as a psychological thriller. The thief does not remember what he did with the painting and his gang somewhat implausibly tries to cure the short-term amnesia with hypnosis.
When a film mixes together amnesia, hypnotherapy, and strange deja vu memories, there will be an unreliable narrator. Simon (James McAvoy) works at an upscale art auction house (think Sotheby’s or Christie’s) and knows the ins and outs of its entire security apparatus. The reason why one would not want to employ Simon in such a capacity is that he has a severe case of gambling addiction. Hit on the head during his part of the robbery, Simon forgets where he stashed the loot.
The gang’s incredulous boss, Franck (Vincent Cassel), sends Simon to a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who specializes in well, curing whatever problem her clients have. She hypnotizes obese people to implant the idea that hey only eat out of stress and sadness, she convinces folks with a fear of flying that they are safe, and she can even improve a golfer’s swing. Now, she is going to help a felonious and seedy gang find the missing Goya.
Elizabeth appears very adept at her profession. She can get Simon hypnotized and talking in no time at all. She also has a blatant American accent in the middle of London. The script never takes the time to address her past and answer why an American hypnotherapist set up her practice in another country; are the British better consumers of this type of treatment?
A majority of the time in Trance, someone is hypnotized at any given moment and delving into the past. Frequently, scenes are spliced together and jump back and forth between the past and present producing a very confusing few minutes for the audience. Not trusting your central character to tell you the truth is one thing, but not trusting the film’s editor will truly frustrate you every now and then.
Trance is an odd follow-up to 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire for director Danny Boyle. It is an obvious step down in achievement. The atmosphere and pacing are far more manic and jumpy like his earlier work in Trainspotting and The Beach. This is the fifth time Boyle directed a script written by John Hodge, who co-authored Trance with Joe Ahearne, so maybe he just wanted to direct another one.
Boyle keeps a heightened level of tension and suspense throughout the entire movie all the way until the final enlightening scene. McAvoy sweats his way through wondering what is true or false in his mind and Dawson plays more of a puppet master who may know more than she lets on. Cassel’s character, Franck, is a bit harder to nail down. He is the boss man and has no moral issues with ordering a bit of torture here and there, but the script shifts tracks on him and I left the theater wondering if he was a true villain or just underwritten.
Guessing what is or is not true because someone may or may not be manipulated by their own memories makes for a complex film. There was many a time I wished Trance was just about a stolen painting because there are so many layers upon layers and half-truths and lies that it all becomes too much after awhile. The characters remain mostly one-dimensional because the script does not allow itself any time to get to know anybody. It always must make room for another hypnotizing session or double cross.
Tance’s script is not good enough for Danny Boyle. He directs the film with way more style and flash than the material can handle. Perhaps Trance is an example of over-direction. In the end, the direction does not match the substance and Trance suffers for it. If dreams within dreams are your thing but you still have a mind for substance and heart, go watch Inception again.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh