Having depicted London in all its beauty, and celebrated the city for its spirit and identity when constructing the opening ceremony at last summer’s Olympic Games, director Danny Boyle returns to the capital with Trance, a somewhat darker portrayal of London, as we delve into the shady underground lives of a group of art thieves.
James McAvoy plays Simon, a debauched art auctioneer who teams up with a criminal collective led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) to steal a valuable piece of art worth millions from the auctioneering house where he works, in a bid to clear him of his gambling debts. However, the heist doesn’t go quite as initially planned, and following a severe knock to the head, Simon has no recollection of where he had stashed the prized possession. As his amnesia begins to worry Franck, they book Simon into a hypnotherapy clinic to see Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to help recover the painting from Simon’s subconscious, however these sessions may just bring more information from his own mind to light than he had perhaps bargained for, as the doctor gets embroiled in this intense and perplexing situation.
From a visual perspective, Trance is a quite outstanding piece of cinema: a stylish, sexy and energetic thriller that lingers long in the memory. Such an atmosphere is created by the use of music, as Boyle’s soundtrack pulsates along with the fast-paced story, sending the audience into a trance-like state, enhancing and adding to the sensual ambiance. Trance does have this ability to hypnotise the viewer, intensified by the seductive nature of Dawson’s voice, and when she sends Simon into a hypnotic state, the audience are almost there with him. Even the antagonist of the piece in Franck is played enticingly by Cassel, sexualising our villain somewhat. With the thrilling, suspenseful narrative and the heightened mood prevailing throughout this film, this is how you’d imagine the result if Christopher Nolan did soft-core erotica.
Given the themes explored, Boyle is allowed the licence to be surreal and creative in what proves to be a hugely ambitious project. Although this is a gritty drama on the surface, the theme of hypnosis allows Boyle to play with the audience’s perceptions and make us question whether what we’re seeing is genuine or not. However, and this is where Trance falls flat, there are just too many twists and turns, and despite the exceptional look and feel to the piece, the story is too complex and too inclined to try to surprise the audience – which simply makes this a quite difficult film to follow.
That said, the ambiguity that exists is also enthralling, with a brilliant sense of mystery lingering over this film as we view the world through the perspective of a man who has lost his memory, causing us to always feel on edge, and never knowing quite what to believe. Our take on the world is a highly unreliable one and this is a unique and fascinating way to indulge in a movie, even if it does lead to confusion and incomprehension with regards to the narrative. The problem is, we just need some clarity and for loose ends to be tied up to ensure that everything fits together and therefore makes sense in the greater scheme of things – yet we aren’t given this luxury.
Trance is halfway between being a complete mess and an absolute masterpiece. However one must admire Boyle for his innovation and you can’t begrudge him for trying his hand at such a variety of genres across his career, always managing to maintain his own identity within each production. Every film he makes is nothing like his last, and this is nothing like you’ve ever seen before, though whether or not it will resonate with audiences is another matter entirely. It certainly requires a second viewing that’s for sure, and perhaps, just maybe, it can be cracked on the third attempt.