The antithesis of “check your brain at the door” cinema, Danny Boyle’s mind-bending crime thriller Trance tickles our synapses with a series of compelling twists and surreal turns while plunging us into the bruised brain of a thief in serious trouble. Pulsing and unpredictable, it’s the type of cinema that only a filmmaker who thrives on taking risks would make, playing out like twisted techno Hitchcock as it leads us into a world where we’re never quite sure what’s real or whom to trust.
Prominent art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) has a problem. A serious gambling addict, he strikes a deal with resourceful crime boss Franck (Vincent Cassel) to settle his debts in exchange for helping to steal Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air -- a painting that auctions for more than $27 million. The heist goes precisely according to plan until Simon double-crosses his fierce accomplice at the last minute, earning a vicious blow to the skull that wipes out all memory concerning the prized painting’s whereabouts. When Simon claims to have no recollection of where he has hidden the stolen masterpiece, Franck and his crew grudgingly agree to let powerful hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) try and pinpoint its location. Now, the deeper Elizabeth probes into Simon's fractured subconscious, the more complex the mystery seems to grow.
As if it wasn’t glaringly obvious already, Trance is the kind of film for which the less you know going in the better. Of course, the same could be said about practically any heist flick, but given the psychologically labyrinthine nature of Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s script (which was adapted from Ahearne’s 2001 made-for-television feature) and the artistic liberties taken by Boyle, it’s especially true here. Together, the trio have molded a fairly typical thriller into something completely unique -- a movie that constantly confounds our suspicions and expectations right along with those of the characters at the heart of this bizarre, occasionally nightmarish mystery. There are times when we’re not quite sure if what we’re witnessing is reality, a dream, a memory, or perhaps merely the seed of a suggestion planted by a hypnotherapist with intimate knowledge of every wrinkle in the human brain. For audiences who value coherence, that could pose quite a challenge, but for those willing to place their complete trust in the storytellers, it can make for an exhilarating experience. That isn’t, however, to say that the film is without its faults -- an overreliance on exposition during the final reveal alone could test the patience of even the most forgiving viewer -- but Trance gets enough right in terms of style, pacing, and characterization to help us overlook its occasional shortcoming. Meanwhile, composer Rick Smith and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (both regular Boyle collaborators, though curiously never on the same film until now) respectively contribute an urgent electronic score and strong visuals that make Trance a strikingly cinematic experience. Likewise, Jon Harris’ editing is an art unto itself, sustaining the movie’s mysterious tone by making the abstract feel totally natural within the context of the elaborate story.
Much like the folks behind the scenes, the cast of Trance play their roles to perfection as well. Photogenic and naturalistic, McAvoy emotes the complicated Simon’s strengths and faults with equal conviction, while the always charismatic Cassel instills Franck with a thief’s charm that seems to contradict the memory-challenged protagonist’s sinister perception of him. As for Dawson, her fearless nude scene might get tongues wagging, but her performance becomes more impressive as the plot gets increasingly complex, proving that Boyle still has as impressive a command of performers as he does style. Perhaps it’s Boyle’s unwavering commitment to experimentation that helps to keep him fresh, but whatever his secret may be, Trance is every bit as bold, audacious, and challenging as the director’s very best work. So while we may not be able to trust any of the characters in Trance, we can certainly count on the filmmakers to deliver a story that holds us transfixed from start to finish. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan