Film Review: ‘Trance’

Having transfixed global audiences last summer with his Brunel-led London Olympics opening ceremony, it’s evolution not revolution for industrious director Danny Boyle with his latest film, the psychological head-spinner Trance (2013). His inaugural collaboration with potential McGregor-successor James McAvoy – as well as French journeyman Vincent Cassel and American actress Rosario Dawson – the Manchester-born Boyle delves deep into the damaged mind of a duplicitous art auctioneer for a semi-familiar game of cat-and-mouse; albeit one that’s full to the brim with wild audiovisual exuberance.

Trance begins with young, successful Rembrandt expert Simon (McAvoy) explaining just how someone would go about stealing a near-priceless work of art, moments before it actually happens. Knocked unconscious by local gang boss Franck (Cassel), with whom he had struck a lucrative prearrangement, Simon wakes days later with no recollection of the events; nor, crucially, the whereabouts of the stolen oil painting. When good old-fashioned torture fails to deliver the goods, an agitated Franck hires attractive hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to jog Simon’s memory – with unpredictable results.

Following a heart-thumping opening heist, Trance takes a minute (two at most) to catch its breath before thrusting ‘poor’ Simon into a downward spiral of masochism and mind games, pausing sporadically to allow its shell-shocked audience to catch up. Built around those typical Boyle staples of hyperactive camerawork and a killer soundtrack (courtesy of Underworld’s Rick Smith), twists and turns come thick and fast, turning heroes into villains – and back again – at the snap of a finger and thumb. Whilst such a frenetic approach leaves little time for boredom to seep in through the cracks, we don’t get anywhere near the same level of engagement with Boyle’s morally suspect cast as we have done in past outings.

As a consequence, Trance does at times feel all too much like a one-man show. Despite their obvious acting calibre, the central triumvirate of McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel never get the chance to really let loose, fulfilling the requirements of their character types with dutiful obligation rather than free-willed panache. Boyle, in contrast, allows himself carte blanche to run with all manner of illogical flights of fancy, sacrificing almost all semblance of coherency by the end of his new film for something all together more sinfully self-indulgent. Whether this will play well even with die-hard Boyle fans remains to be seen.

A tricky thriller to discuss let alone critique – due predominantly to a plethora of red herrings and white rabbits – Boyle’s unapologetic nail-biter (nay, nail-remover) certainly lends itself to repeat viewings, particularly for its simmering exploration of Freud’s id, ego and super-ego via McAvoy’s ever-changing state(s) of mind. Whilst return trips to Trance’s wacky world of hypnotherapy may ultimately prove just as intellectually fruitless as the first, there’s still something undeniably addictive about being placed under this particular director’s cinematic, silky smooth spell. 

Danny Boyle’s Trance is released in UK cinemas on 27 March, 2013.

Daniel Green

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