A slick narrator sets up a daring art heist, but things go south when he’s hit in the head and can’t remember where he stashed the multi-million dollar painting he just stole. His colleagues aren’t pleased with his forgetfulness, so after torturing him, they take him to a hypnotherapist to try to unlock his mind. He doesn’t think he’s met her before, but she clearly recognizes him. Are they secretly in cahoots? Is he faking the amnesia? Could they escape together with the money and leave the bad guys in their rear-view mirror? This is the set-up for Danny Boyle’s Trance, an intense psychological thriller loaded with suspense, deception, and more twists than a corkscrew factory.
Since his career began, Boyle has been able to accomplish a feat which has eluded many directors before him: he hops between genres and experiences success each time. He’s tackled crime films, dark comedies, zombie thrillers, science fiction, and more, all while crafting a style of his own and making his work vibrant and unique. Similar to his 2007 film Sunshine, Trance plays with the concepts of memories, identity, perception, reality, and tons more, and Boyle infuses the movie with his trademarked high-energy visuals and propulsive sense of momentum. The film grabs you from the opening and never releases its grip, toying with you as it shifts its characters around like pieces on a chess board. The story is a giant secret, and Boyle and writer John Hodge dole out fragments of information as fractured as James McAvoy’s psyche while we race to build the bigger picture in our minds.
Boyle creates a visual landscape that seems to constantly be askew, using Dutch angles – it felt like there were more here than in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, which is quite a feat – and reflections to obscure the reality of situations and keep the audience off balance. The visual style keeps us disconnected from the story as we are constantly fed more information and try to put the pieces together to “beat” the movie to its conclusion, but terrific performances from McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel pull us in and give an emotional connection. We’re never quite sure what’s happening behind McAvoy’s shifty eyes, and Dawson does particularly impressive work as the hypnotherapist who wants her own piece of the art theft pie.
That’s not to say this movie is completely flawless. The film opens with an amazingly efficient and realistic robbery sequence, but by the end the characters’ actions have become so heightened and outlandish that all realism is hurled out the window. Picture the Ocean’s 11 guys robbing Terry Benedict, then burning every casino to the ground afterward. (That’s not exactly a perfect metaphor for what happens here, but it’s fun to picture it anyway.) Boyle clearly favors an emotional payoff over a logical one, and while I won’t give anything away, he seems to be influenced by the ending of Christopher Nolan’s Inception here. Like most psychological thrillers, the truth is revealed in a climactic rush, and while we do get the necessary catharsis, Trance didn’t exactly leave me spellbound. Until next time…