Following up his acclaimed orchestration of the London Olympics opening ceremony, director Danny Boyle goes dark with Trance, a trippy, labyrinthine story of an art heist gone wrong. In peeling back the layers with the aid of hypnosis, Boyle’s energetic filmmaking makes for an engaging mystery in the moment, though once revealed the rush quickly subsides, leaving in its wake more emptiness than such a vibrant exercise suggests.
Similar to Inception in its mind-bending, reality-skewed nature, Trance excels in its deciphering of the unknown. Bolstered by a smart script from John Hodge (the writer behind Boyle’s first four features) and Joe Ahearne, the film’s twisty telling of amnesiac Simon (James McAvoy) and his efforts to uncover where he hid a stolen painting constantly disorients the viewer, suggesting a bit of vicarious memory loss. As with the antihero’s struggles, the audience is forced to piece together clues such as a telling expression by hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) or a missing page from a book to scratch toward a solution. Under the grisly threat of Simon’s accomplice Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his three henchmen, the quest receives an additional sense of urgency and elevates the film to Grade A suspense.
The excitement is all the more impressive considering the film’s rampant exposition. A convenient necessity thanks to the revelatory nature of hypnosis, much is learned from Simon’s suggestive sessions, which prove far from a simple one-shot procedure. Complications arise due to his infatuation with Elizabeth and the fear that, once the painting’s location is extracted, Franck will dispose of him. These emotions manifest themselves in Simon’s dreamscapes, each of which play out as sumptuous adventures inside Boyle’s visual dexterity. In these pseudo-memories and the present, little is what it seems and even when the clues begin to assemble a workable timeline, the potential for a twist is ever present.
Becoming caught up in Trance’s whirlwind is a steady pleasure and one that lives up to the collective potential of Boyle and his talented lead trio. Yet with such enigmatic fun, outside of its technical and dramatic mastery, the film ultimately doesn’t give one much to chew on once the credits roll. The puzzle solved and every answer packaged in its own box (perhaps a bit too cleanly), the thrill of discovery gives way to a blasé tone that doesn’t quite belong. Perhaps the film was a superficial adrenaline shot all along, though for much of the ride Boyle’s cinematic gifts are more than enough to distract one from that conclusion.
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language.
Trance is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave. and the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.