Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
Running Time: 101 min
Release: June 27
Trance is Danny Boyle’s 10th cinematic endeavor. He has made an Oscar winning opus about Mumbai, a zeitgeist defining movie about the Edinburgh drug scene, gone to space with Cillian Murphy after sicking zombies (fine, fine, ‘The Infected’) on him, and stuck James Franco under a rock. Though unquestionably very, very talented, what’s impressive is just how difficult it is to single out what makes his films uniquely his. The Coen Brothers have a very noticeable absurdist sense of humour. Spielberg has fathers. Michael Mann has the colour blue. Brett Ratner has being irredeemably shit. While Boyle has elements of all of that (maybe not the Ratner part), nothing really defines him. It makes him sort of brilliant, but it also makes that easy to forget since you can’t define what it is that makes him singular.
While his versatility is impressive, he hasn’t always been fantastic (Did anybody see Millions?), proving his skill-set doesn’t naturally fit with everything. It does, however, fit pretty perfectly with thrillers, and in this regard Trance is fantastic. An incredibly ambitious take on a heist gone wrong movie, Trance opens with Simon (McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer, explaining the security systems involved in the unlikely scenario of a gang of thieves attempting to rip off an art show. Said situation then comes about, with Franck’s (Cassel) crew using Simon as an inside man in order to steal Goya’s Witches in The Air, worth somewhere in the region of twenty-five million pounds. The only problem is that the painting has disappeared and Simon, following a blow to the head, has no idea where he put it. When torture and intimidation don’t jog his memory, Franck is forced to think outside the box, which leads to him hiring Elizabeth (Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to unlock Simon’s psyche. Elizabeth has her own agenda though, and so begins the film’s acceleration, from standard thriller right through outlandish into downright mental territory. The result is incredibly interesting, both as a story and as film-making.
Given the nature of Trance, it would be remiss to give away any plot details, but the effective way it keeps its audience on edge and disorientated is incredible, unease and uncertainty the order of the day. Central to this is McAvoy, who holds everything together wonderfully while being both charming and completely untrustworthy. The narrative shifts and plot twists are deftly handled, with the latter shocking but completely believable, thanks in part to some wonderful character work by McAvoy and Dawson. The film also looks incredible, with Cassel and Dawson’s respective apartments having such a striking appearance they look almost otherworldly. It’s a shame that all this incredible work is undone by an ending that seems to be striving for a sense of closure, only to feel a little flat and empty, cheapening the earlier experience.
For all it’s twisting, Trance remains beguiling and entertaining without being especially deep, even for all the big questions it asks. It deserves commendation for taking on these questions without being self-important, but doesn’t deal with them enough to be truly great.