By George Wolf
The head-trippy space so eloquently invaded by Christopher Nolan in films such as Memento and Inception seems to have caught the fancy of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). In Trance, Boyle gleefully plays with perception and reality as he unveils a mostly effective noir tale of the hunt for a stolen art masterpiece.
James McAvoy stars as Simon, an employee of an exclusive London auction house who opens the film by explaining his game plan for safeguarding art masterpieces during any heist attempts. While Simon is narrating, we see a heist being organized, leading up to the moment when ringleader Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his thugs steal a prized work.
Simon owes Franck an old debt, but attempts to pay it off with the location of a lost painting are stalled by Simon’s claim of amnesia. And so, the group understandably turns to…hypnosis.
Stay with me, because this is when things get freaky. Once Simon begins visiting hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), all lines begin to blur.
What is real, and what is a hypnotic suggestion? Who is plotting with whom, and is all that nudity and sex merely subconscious desire?
Boyle, in films such as Slumdog, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave, has shown that his choices regarding pacing and visual style are often masterful. With Trance, Boyle seems energized by his new genre playground – so much so that the questionable leaps taken by the script are swept aside with little regard.
The core story was first hatched by current “Dr. Who” writer Joe Ahearne in a TV movie from 2001. Frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge has expanded the screenplay to keep your head swimming with possibilities, as heroes turn into villains, past becomes present, and then back again.
The solid cast is anchored by Dawson, who reaches beyond anything we’ve seen from her so far with a layered, emotional performance in a role that makes frequent demands. She answers them all, and becomes the film’s center of gravity when too many elements threaten to spin out of control.
Trance is engaging and entertaining, but I’m guessing Boyle was after a bit more. Instead of leaving with a feeling of wonder as you spend days trying to get your head around it, you’re more likely to view Trance as clever, forgettable fun.