Trance Review


There’s a great movie hidden beneath the bright lights, loud noises, and multiple misdirections that make up Danny Boyle‘s latest film, Trance. A heist thriller that thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, Boyle and his screenwriters, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, get bogged down trying to fool us when there’s a seemingly fantastic and decidedly straightforward narrative staring them in the face. Despite their best efforts, however, Trance ultimately succeeds. Why? It’s fun.

Boyle’s greatest gift to the art of moviemaking is his ability to energize a motion picture. Whether it’s a foot chase through the Mumbai slums or a group of Scotish thugs struggling with heroin addictions, every scene he directs moves in an exciting way. Trance might exemplify this better than any previous Boyle movie. Every time the story starts to go off the rails, we’re thrown a stylistic bone. The neon lights, quick cuts, and thumping-good score, then, are what make Trance a wild ride worth taking.

Our point man into this world is Simon (James McAvoy). An online poker addict, he works at one of London’s premiere art auction houses, and while he might not be the most adept gambler, he knows the ins and outs of preventing a heist better than anyone. When thieves break into his place of work to nab a Goya worth in excess of 25 million pounds, he puts one over on them, but he takes an awful blow to the head for his troubles.

Months later, after he’s out of the hospital, we learn Simon was supposed to be in on the heist. He doesn’t know why he double-crossed Frank (Vincent Cassel) and the rest of the gang, nor does he remember where he hid the painting. But its mysterious whereabouts, he knows, is the only thing keeping him alive.

Frank decides to hire a hypnotist, Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), to coax the information out of Simon. But the mind, it seems, is a tricky place, and this woman can navigate its shortcuts and back alleys better than almost anyone. Soon, she’s got both Simon and Frank on a leash, yet her intentions remain as mysterious as her methods.

Trance is assembled like a puzzle, and as with films like Shutter Island and Inception, you can go from scene to scene without knowing if what you’re watching is really happening. Dreams and hallucinations play a major role in Trance‘s outcome, which essentially gives Boyle license to do whatever he wants. That’s the film’s biggest problem. He can explain away anything with the appropriate dialogue or a clever cut.

But while you recognize these cheap moments while they’re happening, Boyle boulders through them in a way that makes the sore feelings easy to leave behind. The film requires a lengthy catch-up sequence before its denoument—it’s the kind of scene you usually only see in bad thrillers because a good filmmaker knows how to sprinkle these important bits throughout his or her movie. Trance‘s explanatory material is so well-executed and pleasing to the eye that its inherent silliness becomes part of the ride.

Anthony Dod Mantle, Boyle’s regular cinematographer, deserves a lot of the credit for making Trance work. He captures some incredibly cool and moody images, while Rick Smith’s original score ups the film’s tension in all the right ways.

Speaking of tense, James McAvoy’s performance walks the fine line that separates sane from insane brilliantly. Simon is a fascinating character made all the better by McAvoy’s infusion of easygoing British charm. Rosario Dawson, meanwhile, places everything very close to the chest. Her character is arguably Trance‘s biggest mystery, and while the revelation won’t please everyone, it’s tough to say anything negative about such a strong performance. Vincent Cassel is the weak link in the cast, if only because the script simply doesn’t know what to do with him.

The less you think about Trance in its wake, the more likely you’ll be to hold on to the good. Does that make the film disposable? Sure, but that ultimately doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. So shut your brain off for two hours, go see this movie, and have a fun time.

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