If Danny Boyle was a household name prior to 2012, his Olympic opening ceremony ensured that anyone with a TV would have the man’s name etched into their soul for eternity. Let’s be honest, it was a spectacular event that even managed to unite the UK’s brooding neighbours in a patriotic defiance. It was pure theatre and a majestic follow up to his National Theatre produced adaptation of Frankenstein. In amongst all this, it would be easy to forget that Boyle is filmmaker, responsible for cult classics like Trainspotting and the Oscar bothering Slumdog Millionaire, it’s fair to say that his latest film always comes with high expectations. With Trance, his first film since 2010’s 127 Hours, the british director has only himself to blame for setting the bar so high.
Simon (James McAvoy) is a fine arts auctioneer whose job is to ensure the safety of the work in the event of a robbery. When Frank (Vincent Cassel) storms the auction intent on stealing Goya’s 27 million valued Witches in the Air , Simon tries to be a hero only to get a severe head injury for his trouble. Frank goes away empty handed and Simon gets commended. Unfortunately for Simon, Frank isn’t best pleased that he doesn’t have the painting, especially considering it was an inside job and Simon was working for him. Adding to his woes Simon also has amnesia which Frank accepts as the truth, although not before a little bit of torture that involves pulling fingernails. Enter hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) who is entrusted to delve in Simon’s mind and help him remember where he hid the painting.
Boyle isn’t known for sticking with the same type of film, and with Trance he experiments with different genres as the film progresses. Starting off as a crime caper in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, it quickly changes into a dark psychological thriller with a romantic theme bursting through. Might sound messy but Boyle expertly weaves the contrasting themes to create a modern noir with a beating heart.
The cast is exceptional as you would come to expect from the stars involved. McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel all portray complex characters that slowly unravel, blurring the lines between good and bad to keep you guessing who the heroes and villains of the piece really are.
At times the plot can get a little confusing as you’re left questioning what is real and what’s a product of Simon’s memory and imagination. It is a film that would definitely benefit from repeat viewing as the clues are retroactively told at the film’s climax much in the way the reveal is presented in the Usual Suspects.
Despite genre hopping through his career, there are recurring themes in Boyle’s work and Trance is no exception. Like Shallow Grave and Sunshine, the characters of Trance live in a bubble and and rarely associate with the “outside” world. Whilst also appearing bleak, Trance’s climax has a surprising lightness to it and in many ways can be compared to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, albeit with more swearing and killing.
Sexy and oozing with style and class, Trance is a roller coaster mind fuck that is rewarding rather than a cop out (looking at you Lindelof). You may doubt it when you’re watching it, but chances are you’ll leave the cinema smiling and feeling a little warm inside. Recommended.