After turning his attention to curating the illuminating London Olympics opening ceremony over the summer months, acclaimed BAFTA award-winning director Danny Boyle returns to his cinematic home with his latest feature effort Trance: a hypnotic and delirious, yet overstuffed and often baffling psychological crime thriller that sees him work from a script co-written by regular screenwriter John Hodge and new recruit Joe Ahearne.
Simon (James McAvoy), a seemingly well-to-do art auctioneer, agrees to aid a gang in stealing a lucrative painting in exchange for help in clearing his massive gambling debt. However, when the heist goes wrong and Simon can’t remember where he stashed the stolen painting, gang boss Frank (Vincent Cassel) suggests he see hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who may well hold the key to unlocking the part of his mind where the memory is kept.
Kicking off with a measured and slick opening sequence that sets the stage for an edgy heist film, Trance quickly transcends into something far more complex: a deeply layered labyrinth of a psychological thriller that’s more about delving into the deep corners of the human psyche than the exact whereabouts of the missing painting. Hodge and Ahearne construct a cinematic mind trip that – to dizzying effect – blends reality with the subconscious constructs of Simon’s mind, real or not.
For the most part, the narrative is powerful and smart, with unexpected twist after unexpected twist astonishing and confusing the baying audience in equal measure as Simon’s hypnotherapy sessions unlock the many layers of his mind. It’s unrelenting in its delivery meaning audiences are never bored, yet the more Elizabeth delves into the deeper, darker areas of Simon’s mind, the more fragmented the whole film becomes.
It’s in this and what the many hypnotherapy sessions unveil – from hidden secrets to illicit affair, and everything in between – that proves Trance’s ultimate downfall. It’s not that Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don’t paint a stylish picture of violence, deceit, sex and lust, or that the actors don’t bounce off one another with magnetic ease (Dawson, in particular, is a revelation as Elizabeth), more that it never quite comes together in a truly satisfying, succinct way.
It’s difficult to say whether or not Trance’s unusual split-production damaged the finished product in any way (production was split into two halves to allow Boyle to fulfil his Olympics obligations), but what’s clear is that Trance is a tough nut to crack: a dazzling, intoxicating thriller that, while crafty and constantly engaging, ultimately feels too weighed down its own overwhelming ambition and woozy narrative tricks.