Sometimes it’s nice to see the psychology put back in the psychological thriller. Such is the case with Trance, a mind-bending crime saga from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) that offers rewards for both the eyes and the brain.
It’s a film that blurs several lines — including those between fantasy and reality, heroes and villains, and fact and fiction — and does so in a way that puts a fresh and compelling spin on contemporary film noir and heist pictures.
The story opens with a robbery of a posh London art sale, in which Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer who hides a valuable Goya painting during the heist, only to later forget where it’s been placed after being struck on the head by ruthless gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) after a suspected double-crossing.
After the two reach a stalemate over the whereabouts of the purloined artwork, they mutually contact Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a sultry hypnotherapist who seduces both men with motives that at first are unclear. While she tries to hypnotize Simon into remembering where he placed the valuable painting, she more subtly attempts to manipulate Simon and Franck for her own gain.
For Boyle, Trance seems like a bigger-budget throwback of sorts to the gritty thrillers from his early days, such as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. It also marks the fifth collaboration between Boyle and the screenwriter of those films, John Hodge, who adapted the screenplay along with Joe Ahearne, who wrote the original 2001 British television movie upon which the film is based.
The versatile director gives the film a vibrant and polished look, thanks in part to frequent Boyle collaborators including cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb and editor Jon Harris.
All three leads offer complex performances as their characters shift loyalties and generate various degrees of audience sympathy.
While the script isn’t especially clever or provocative in its examination of dreams and memories, it offers a few nifty twists and trippy conspiracy theories.
Trance manages to smooth over its gimmicks and rough patches with an excess of style and suspense that renders its central mystery almost irrelevant, yet somehow enhances its entertainment value.
Rated R, 101 minutes.