Film Review: Trance

To avoid beating about the bush, Trance is a total mindfuck.  In the wake of what was apparently Danny Boyle’s most cherished project thus far – the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, of course – he has returned to the filmic world with a headspinning tale of deception, buried memories, and guys getting shot in the tunk.  (As you do after taking the ‘Queen’ skydiving.)  Beginning with a seemingly simple tale of hypnotherapy that rapidly spirals out of control into something much more unsettling, Trance is not easy to embrace at first.  It’s a prickly and volatile watch; one which darts along at a jittery speed and taunts the viewer to try and keep up with its ever-shifting array of ideas.

To settle his excessive gambling debts, art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) cooks up a deal with criminal kingpin Franck (Vincent Cassel).  With Simon as an inside man, Franck and his cronies attempt the heist of a £25,000,000 Goya painting, but when the canvas itself goes AWOL, Simon comes under heavy fire from the snarling syndicate.  The problem is, after taking a pretty nasty crack to the noggin during the caper, his mind is wiped of the events surrounding the heist.  Cue the employment of hypnotherapist Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to try and coax Simon’s memories back from the brink.  But what is eventually unearthed goes far, far beyond a single shady dealing, and the mysteries only begin to pile up further.

The finished product is perhaps best compared to a film such as Inception, with its high-wire “all-in-your-head” concepts, but Trance is much more slippery.  Detached and treacherous to the point of appearing quite cold at times, the tension and confusion is cranked up with every passing minute, until Boyle finally decides to unscrew the gasoline in an explosive display to match last summer’s fireworks.  A lot of viewers may be put off by Trance‘s unapologetically brusque nature, but it’s definitely worth sticking with, because it overflows with enough intrigue to keep it rattling in your mind for hours afterwards.  Boyle revels in grotesque imagery and none-more-black comedy, which comes in handy whenever the plot becomes overly sticky or claustrophobic.

Visually, it’s a treat: coated in steely silvers and inky blacks, the London represented here slants between a flashy, luxurious sprawl and a noirish world of shadows.  It’s the perfect playhouse in which to let loose McAvoy and his paranoid cohorts, all of whom share the same inherent relationships with greed, fear, and lust.  With most of these characters so cagey and tight-lipped, the performances are suitably calculated: McAvoy himself plays the jumpy, paranoid Simon to a tee, while in a neat surprise, Cassel steals the show as the syndicate’s menacing (but importantly, not monstrous) leader.

Trouble is, such a threatening atmosphere results in the characters not being all that likeable, though whether or not that adds to the ambiguity of the whole story is up for debate.  At least until the grand denouement, a number of the central figures come across as nothing less than unsympathetic, occasionally flat enigmas, wrapped up in an ever-shifting plot which never pauses to catch its own breath.  Consequently, there are frequent moments when Trance seems rather joyless: a glassy-eyed creation a little too proud of its own cleverness.

Yet, to return to Christopher Nolan once more, there are elements of Memento in Trance’s veins too, and as the whole picture gradually unpeels, there are heady shocks to be found.  It’s not consistent in its quality, and it could do with shading its world a little more thoroughly, but you can’t deny the intelligence and bravura behind this film.


It might be harder to swallow than his other recent outings, but Boyle’s latest is impossible to ignore.  Instead, it plays the long game, keeping its cards close to its chest until its explosive final third.  Amid all the confusion – and frustrations – of its mind-bending structure, Trance plays hard, fast, and sinister.



Posted on April 12, 2013, in The Film World and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. An enjoyable review, Mr Quotesponge!
    I suppose it’s not polished in its pace like Inception or Memento, certainly, but for a filmmaking leap from Slumdog and Trainspotting to a complete mindfuck, hats off to Mr Boyle. It’s enjoyably convoluted, or so I found by resisting any attempts to find direction before the reveal.
    I agree about Cassel stealing the show and the film is undeniably pretty. As for the lack of likeable characters, that’s only true on reflection of the film as a whole and it’s due to the way Boyle toys with the audience’s trust in each of the three, which is at the very least refreshing.

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