James McAvoy as Simon
Vincent Cassel as Franck
Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth
Danny Sapani as Nate
Matt Cross as Dominic
Wahab Sheikh as Riz
Mark Poltimore as Francis Lemaitre
Tuppence Middleton as Young Woman in Red Car
Simon Kunz as Surgeon
Michael Shaeffer as Security Guard #1
Tony Jayawardena as Security Guard #2
Vincent Montuel as Handsome Waiter
Jai Rajani as Car Park Attendant
Spencer Wilding as 60’s Robber
Gursharan Chaggar as Postman
Directed by Danny Boyle
Arthouse auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) is involved in the sale of a multi-million dollar Goya painting when the auction house is raided by an art thief named Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his men, who stage an elaborate theft. Before being knocked unconscious during the heist, Simon is able to hide the valuable painting, but having no recollection of what happened, Franck sends him to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember where he put it.
Three years after “127 Hours” and less than a year after directing the most bizarre Olympics opening ceremony in recent memory, director Danny Boyle is back doing what he does best, directing movies. What makes “Trance” even more significant is that it reunites Boyle with John Hodge, writer of early Boyle classics “Trainspotting” and “Shallow Grave.” This time, they’re trying their hand at an erotic thriller, and as a long-time fan of everything Boyle has done, I really wanted to like “Trance” more, but it’s one of those movies that feels like something’s off, yet it’s hard to exactly put one’s finger on why it doesn’t work.
It certainly starts out well enough, like something we might see from Boyle’s peer Guy Ritchie as we’re introduced to James McAvoy’s Simon, an employee at an auction house who explains the security measures taken to prevent robberies of valuable pieces of art. As if on cue, they’re robbed minutes later and it doesn’t go well for Simon as he ends up in the hospital with a concussion, having forgotten everything that happened. Cheated out of the painting, the mastermind of the art heist, Franck forces Simon, his inside man on the job, to to see a hypnotherapist, played by Rosario Dawson, to help him remember. During their first session with Franck and his men eavesdropping, she easily discovers Simon’s name and his connection to the heist, and she wants in on the money Franck’s gang will get once they find and sell the painting.
To Hodge and Boyle’s credit, this is a markedly original take on the heist/crime thrillers we’ve seen in the past with the introduction of a hypnotherapist who can get guys to do whatever she wants, but at times, the movie seems to be floundering to find new twists to throw into the mix. The film gets notably less interesting as we get into the romantic love triangle between the three of them and certain ideas introduced during the second act just confuse matters.
Continuing to thrive as the actor producers call when they need a “younger Ewan McGregor,” McAvoy isn’t bad in a role that allows him to branch out a bit, although seeing him so soon in this role after “Welcome to the Punch” (in which he played a police detective), it doesn’t seem like he’s playing the role very different. Dawson’s more convincing as the hypnotherapist who has these guys eating out of her hand. The empowering nature of her role is certainly one of the film’s strongest suits, but this being an erotic thriller, there’s lots of Dawson full frontal nudity and a good amount of McAvoy’s backside as well, for those into that sort of thing.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with introducing sex into the story, but in this case it feels shoe-horned into the story in a confusing wayis Simon obsessed with his therapist? Is she just using sex to find the location of the painting? Is she really attracted to Franck or is she using him as well? By the time we get to a twist involving the shaving of a certain part of the female anatomy, which isn’t explained for over 30 minutes, it just comes off as a desperate attempt at trying to
On top of that, it feels like Vincent Cassel has played more interesting villains as much as it tries to create grey area to his character and whether or not he’s the real bad guy in this situation, something that’s enhanced and confused by the film’s third act.
Constantly going inside Simon’s hypnotic trances makes it much easier to create situations where what we’re seeing on screen may only be happening in Simon’s head, but the film’s omnipresence, following all three characters at all times, ultimately creates complications. It’s pretty obvious Elizabeth knows more than she’s letting on so we’re always expecting to get a big reveal about her involvement in the heist. Sure enough, there are lots of twists, maybe too many of them as the film tries to dig its way out of the situation it’s created with a final reveal that seems to counteract things established earlier. We won’t go into too much detail, but there are things we see Elizabeth do earlier in the film that make little sense once we learn the truth about her relationship to the two men.
The film is visually stimulating with regular Boyle cinematographer Anthoy Dod Mantle doing impeccable work as usual and it also features a great score by Rick Smith, another Boyle alumnus from the “Trainspotting” days. Even so, it often feels like Boyle is reusing some of his old tricks like the constantly building music of “28 Days Later” although the payoff doesn’t seem as earned since the film generally lacks the heart and soul of Boyle’s more recent work.
The Bottom Line:
From any other director, “Trance” would be just fine, but coming from Danny Boyle after such a long gap (at least for him), it’s hard not to be disappointed by what is clearly weaker material than what he’s been working from in recent years.