Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge
Starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani, Wahab Sheikh, Matt Cross and Tuppence Middleton
R, 102 minutes
Trance is a “whodunit” made with scintillating visual style and a mind-bending narrative that pulsates every scene. Actually, “whodunit” isn’t the correct term for what this picture is, as “where is it,” “who’s playing who” and “what’s going to happen when it’s all figured out” are more apt questions to be asked as Danny Boyle’s latest runs through waves of suspense, quite unexpectedly given a lot of the movie involves people falling into dazed states of hypnotic suggestion. Not unexpectedly, however, is that Trance puts the viewer in this same mesmeric state. It is a thrilling ride that marks another fantastic entry in the filmography of one of England’s best working directors.
The movie begins with a rundown of standard protocol for a high-end art gallery in the event of a robbery. This information is given to us by auctioneer Simon Newton (James McAvoy), who sums up this whole sequence imparting the most important thing to remember when a robbery occurs: don’t be a hero. Simon doesn’t take this advice, however, when a gang of thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) storm an auction to steal an expensive painting. Frank knocks Simon on the head and gets away but not without later discovering Simon has somehow absconded with the painting and merely left him with an empty frame. Having an impaired memory, Simon is in no condition to remember where the painting is when Franck and his gang come around to shake him down for it. Out of options they turn to hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in the hopes that she can help him remember and they can receive their big payday.
The hypnosis sequences are stylishly done in a way that shows a character descending into a dream-like state. Those present in the room can butt in on what the hypnotized person experiences, such as through speaking (similar to Inception, up to a point). These are very effective, as it should since it is the titular experiences upon which characters find themselves in, tells us a lot of what we need to know about people and allows the viewer to work out what exactly what is going on at the pace it wants you to. When a movie proves itself effective in this aspect, and never feels like its cheating or taking the easy way out is quite an achievement. This sense of style extends to the action as well, where inventive camera work continually represents skewed perspectives of the story as necessary.
All the major players perform very well, deftly imbuing their characters with relatable goals even when their motivations seem to be shifting as new information is presented. James McAvoy is excellent as the put upon art lover Simon; he fits the role like a glove and competently portrays the character’s quirks. Rosario Dawson’s voice is suitably intoxicating as the woman who uses her voice to hypnotize her patients. I really like what was done with her character as she provides a lot of the main tension in the movie beyond the fact that the criminal Franck wants the painting and Simon can’t remember where it is. Speaking of Franck, Vincent Cassel proves once again to be a reliable character actor, playing things fairly restrained in the hopes of getting what he wants. He is a man consistently out of his depth but keeps a straight face all the same for the most part. The interplay between these three characters is a thrill to watch and done in such a prudent way that when the movie really kicks into high gear none of what occurs can be considered out of character for either of them. The rest of the cast performs well, but the focus rests squarely on the three leads.
However, it does feel that more could have been done so that Simon felt more trepidation to remember what happened. Sure, he’s under the threat of death and it is explained to us that he is terrified, but the way they get to the whole hypnosis plot seemed a bit too easy and rushed. Stemming from this, the overall scheme of a certain character was foreshadowed a bit too much and could have been implied less heavily. These little details, even if they do amount to a rather fascinating conclusion, make the ending seem like one big Rube Goldberg machine, where if one event hadn’t occurred as planned the whole thing would have easily failed.
Despite small qualms with how the movie unfolded, I cannot deny that these problems only occurred to me once the movie was over and I reflected on the story as a whole. It does not rob the movie from being an exciting and thought-provoking ride with an ending that, while contrived in one respect, offers an interesting take on how both internal and external forces can have a huge effect on what we remember.
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