Danny Boyle attempts to hypnotize his audience...



Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Tuppence Middleton, Sam Creed, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh. Written by Joe Ahearne, John Hodge.

A visually arresting little neo-noir from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), Trance is a diverting, even compelling experience that just about completely falls apart by the end. In a hypnosis-themed film where we’re never entirely if what we’re watching is actually occurring or just unfolding in a character’s mind, we expect the unexpected. But we hope for something sensible.

Right off the bat, there are two leaps of faith that the film requires of the audience. The first is the aforementioned hypnosis, which starts off in the realm of potential believability (in terms of memory-inducing hypnotherapy) before devolving into mind control nonsense.

The second is art theft, or more precisely, the way art theft is treated here (by, let’s just say, non-professionals). We see art theft in so many movies (most recently: Gambit), and it certainly does seem to occur with some frequency in real life, but I always wonder how much value a stolen painting has on the black market. Most real-life art thieves seem to be private collectors, not random thugs looking for a quick score, as depicted here.

Still, the premise is ingenious. Auction house worker Simon (James McAvoy) swipes a priceless painting along with a group of criminals led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), but he gets a nasty knock on the head in the process. When he wakes up in the hospital, he has no memory of where he stashed the painting – so he recruits hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help him delve into his memory.

And then, well, we delve along with him. A lot of Trance may – or may not – be occurring within Simon’s head. Which is fun, up to a point, but when the climax explicitly spells everything out for us, well, a lot of the playful fun has been drained away.

Visually, however, the film always manages to keep our attention, with a lot of imaginative lighting and setups and some arresting cinematography from Boyle regular Anthony Dod Mantle. Rick Smith’s dreamlike original score is perfectly suited to the material.

But by the end, the film has managed to alienate us from all three leads – which is no small feat. McAvoy’s Simon feels unsavory, but Elizabeth is hardly better, and while the script wants to do something with Franck, the character just hasn’t been developed well enough to pay off.

With a diverse range of genres and styles under his belt, director Boyle is not in the business of making bad movies. Trance is probably his worst, though it might have some competition from 2000’s The Beach. Still, that’s saying something: this film is plenty interesting, and not exactly bad – just, ultimately, unsatisfying.

Writer Joe Ahearne originally approached Boyle with the script in the 1990s; in 2001, he turned it into a TV movie of the same title, making this a remake of sorts. 

Also opening this week:

  • No Rest for the Wicked (showtimes | IMDb), a Spanish thriller about the 2004 terrorist bombing in Madrid. Screening in Spanish with Czech subtitles. 
  • Vive la France (showtimes | IMDb), a French comedy starring José Garcia and Michaël Youn. In French with Czech subtitles.

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