Filmed before Danny Boyle’s celebrated opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, yet released in cinemas earlier this year, Trance (2013) naturally arrived with high expectations. Top-lined by James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel, Boyle’s latest is the first Britain-set film the director has made since the children’s fantasy Millions (2004) almost a decade ago. Trance is a genre mash-up – part heist film, part psychological thriller – opening as McAvoy’s Simon helps Franck (Cassel) and his gang to steal a near-priceless piece of art, before taking a blow to the head and forgetting where he hid it.
Presented with a list of therapists, Simon selects Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) to subject him to hypnotherapy so that he might recall the painting’s location. From there, things get tangled. Gorgeous trance sequences take place in Simon’s mind set to Rick Smith’s pulsing, soaring electronic score; while alternately grimy and glowing real-life interactions between Simon, Elizabeth and Franck see the trio getting more and more involved in each others’ lives. Characters cross, double-cross, triple-cross and, if it may not be the easiest to follow, the various twists are at the very least manageable for those familiar with this style of thriller. What Trance most crucially lacks, however, is a sense of cohesion.
There’s more (equally convoluted) back-story than there is plot. The push and pull of abused and abuser stretches the drama thin, and although the construction of Simon as a character is fascinating, the way the characters behave becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile. The puzzle that the film comprises is built to house an emptiness. Throw in the film’s confused approach to nudity – at one point Dawson strips herself bare, yet when Cassel or McAvoy appear in the buff, shot composition contrives to spare their modesty – and Trance seems worryingly short on the things which really matter: it’s intense, but not engaging; smart but not intelligent; lacking in anything significant worth saying or feeling.
Boyle’s famed high energy, speedy filmmaking feels stuck in overdrive throughout. Trance gallops along without pausing for breath, barely allowing space for any emotional moment to resonate before hurrying along to the next scene. The three central performers are all commendable, but that can’t save Trance from itself. It’s a far more interesting piece of work than Boyle’s 2008 Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, but it is nasty – at times exhilaratingly so – and bitter. A frustrating, slightly disappointing effort from the Radcliffe-born filmmaker.