Danny Boyle’s Trance is a sub-Nolan twist on the heist movie, employing Boyle‘s visual style of fast cuts, garish colour and humour to tell the story of Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer who suffers a head injury during a robbery and is then captured by the gang, who need to recover the location of the desired painting from his repressed memory. After the usual London industrial-wasteland torture sequence fails to reveal where Simon hid it, they resort to having him choose a hypnotherapist, Dr Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to dig up the location from his frazzled neurons.
Amid a supporting cast of the usual shouty tough guys, Dawson’s performance as Lamb is the most interesting in this maelstrom of memory. She shifts subtly, from innocent bystander, to vulnerable victim, cool-headed partner and sensual provocateur, teasing our sense of security in that what may or may not be real. McAvoy plays Simon with increasing desperation and volume as we near the end of the film, but not much more. I couldn’t help but feel he would have been interchangeable with the other cheeky-chappy and Boyle alumni, Ewan McGregor. Vincent Cassel as chief villain doesn’t get to do much but sneer with a slightly curled lip-Français as Lamb’s progress proves slow, but to be fair to the cast, the star of this film is Boyle’s plot contrivance, they are merely directed to dance around it in circles.
The problem with Trance is that the narrative is broken up by so many flashback, nay, flash-sideways scenes it is hard to reconstruct everything in chronological order. It left me trying to put the pieces together to make a sensible whole, with half-remembered and slightly muddled character motivations swimming against one another in my head. Ah, you say, that’s the director making you feel like the protagonist. Well, up to a point, but if you make a film heavily dependent on restructuring reality, it must give the audience a reasonable shot at remembering how the threads fit together. The ending is quite unsatisfactory, a soft coda to the jarring aggression that had so effectively been sustained throughout. I can’t even believe that the character in question would have any sympathy for the other. It’s a Boyle trope that he used in The Beach. Why the need for reflection and drawn-out goodbyes?
Boyle’s hyper-real shooting style is always a pleasure to experience and I enjoyed the thrill of being bounced around by the editing and Anthony Dod Mantle’s hallucinatory cinematography, but this time Boyle has reached too far at the cost of telling a coherent story.