Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani

Despite becoming somewhat of a household name after directing the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony (and following two consecutive major critical successes in Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours), Danny Boyle managed to release his latest film, Trance, completely under the radar. As a result, it performed poorly at the box office, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look, especially to fans of Boyle’s unorthodox style.

Trance concerns Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer. During an attempt to steal one of the more expensive pieces with a gang of thieves, he takes a blow to the head and forgets where he’s put the painting. The gang, led by the brooding Franck (Vincent Cassel), take him to see a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) in order to extract the seemingly lost memory of where he put the canvas. The premise has an Inception-esque air to it, what with all the entering other people’s minds, but Trance is less sci-fi and more psychological thriller.

At times, the complex plot might seem difficult, especially as it dips in and out of realities. But the climax does a good job of tying everything up and explaining it, although there’s a chance viewers might lose interest in the middle as it winds through all Simon’s hypnosis sessions. Hopefully, the three central characters should be enough to keep most engaged in the film.

McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel are all excellent in the ways they nuance their performances to reflect their characters’ situations. There’s a constant subtle struggle for power between the three, and it’s never entirely clear what each person’s intentions are, in regards to each other and to the pivotal painting. During the progression of the film the leverages switch. At the start, Franck appears on top, playing a threatening and enraged boss to Simon’s harassed victim, but towards the end, Simon has a lot more power and Franck is on the back foot. Meanwhile, therapist Elizabeth remains cool and calculated for the bulk of the film until the climax when she becomes a lot more visibly emotional.

This is reflective of the overall tonal shifts in Trance. The first act projects an offbeat crime thriller, with the pacey heist unfolding at the start and the interplay between Simon, Franck and the gang. As it moves into the second act with the inclusion of Elizabeth, the psychological aspect comes a lot more into the narrative as the focus is on finding the lost painting within Simon’s memory. It becomes more of a psychological mystery, wherein the Inception similarities are perhaps most notable. In the final act, the violence and tension are much heavier, as the three close in on the painting and square off with each other, placing it squarely as a thriller.

Indeed, the film turns surprisingly violent, although Danny Boyle is no stranger to depictions of violence. In fact Trance, like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and 127 Hours, is rather earnest in its presentation of things that may be considered gruesome or taboo – including shootings, decomposition, and nudity.

Conversely, against the stark images of violence, Boyle’s portrayal of the world within the film is less lucid, with the dream-like state of the narrative mirrored in the filmmaking. The visuals are precise in their use of colour and design to offer insight into the characters on-screen, for example using a wall of mirrored tiles to fracture an image of Elizabeth, representing her enigmatic character. The hypnosis segments are edited together very deliberately to show the fast-changing state of Simon’s mind, its susceptibility to the other characters, and the unclear variances between his two realities. Add to that a surreal electronic soundtrack from Underworld (who have collaborated with Boyle on numerous occasions), and the overall effect on the audience is one of intended trance to echo the film.

Though to say all this, Trance isn’t without its flaws – the most prominent perhaps being the plot. Although as stated it can be complex in the sense of its blurring of realities and constant flicking between past and present, it is generally thin. The story really doesn’t stretch much further than Simon’s hypnotherapy and the painting, and a later-introduced romance. Especially in the middle of the film, it starts to feel drawn out and confusing and it’s here that audiences might be prone to lose interest. However, to its credit it does remain unpredictable right until the ending. Each twist and turn is fresh, but perhaps there’s not quite enough substance in between.

The finale is certainly worth sticking around for, though. The entire mystery unravels and comes to a dark and suspenseful head, and the three main characters unravel along with it. It’s a fitting conclusion to an interesting thrill ride, constructed in typical Danny Boyle form. Three excellent and, at times, surprising, central performances drive a surreal but well-rounded package that will keep audiences guessing. It’s definitely worth a look, and deserved more attention than it received on release.

Watch the trailer for Trance below

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