Movie Review: Trance
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Danny Boyle’s “Trance” tries to enthrall the audience by being tricky and trippy. It traffics in hypnosis and makes you wonder whether what you’re watching is really happening or just an implanted memory. It wants to be Alfred Hitchcock on steroids, with wild scenes that send you down a swirling, nightmarish vortex.
But none of this works if the characters onscreen don’t inspire your allegiance. Why should you care if you can’t figure out who’s good and who’s bad? Hitchcock never left us with so many questions. Gregory Peck’s character in “Spellbound,” for instance, was being framed for murder. At first, you couldn’t be sure that Peck’s character was good, but you knew that Ingrid Bergman, who was almost always good, probably wouldn’t side with a bad guy.
You knew Tippi Hedren did bad things in “Marnie.” But you wanted to know why. You cared about her, even if it was a bit weird.
In “Trance,” it’s hard to care about anyone.
James McAvoy stars as Simon, who works at an auction house that sells masterpieces. When robbers invade an auction to steal a Goya masterpiece, Simon tries to stop the theft and is hit over the head.
But shortly afterward, you learn that he was actually an accomplice to the robbery, having cut a deal with gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel). You also discover that Simon has double-crossed Franck and hidden the Goya, but Simon can’t remember where because he had a concussion.
After torture doesn’t work, Franck decides to send Simon to hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), in an effort to go into Simon’s subconscious and recover the painting.
But the hypnotherapist has some secrets of her own, and it’s clear that she’s no shining example of the medical profession.
So you have an amnesiac, double-crossing crook; a crime boss; and a shady hypnotherapist. The double-crosser is cute and has a nice accent. The crime boss seems to have a heart (of course). And the hypnotherapist is undeniably hot. But they’re all curiously empty.
Boyle presented clips of “Trance” at the recent South by Southwest Film Festival, and he said in an interview that hoped audiences would see the movie as a “delicious perversity.”
“The actual film is not really not about a stolen painting,” he told the American-Statesman. “It appears to be about a stolen painting. It’s not. It’s about stolen memories. The film appears to be about amnesia, it’s not. One of the characters in the film says amnesia is bollocks. We all know that. It’s just a movie device. The movie is about forgetting as a behavioral choice.”
Boyle added: “It’s a more complex piece of storytelling … the ideas of the film, the art heist, amnesia, the femme fatale…. The film uses these tropes. But they won’t solve the puzzle for you in the end. The puzzle is solved in a different way, as you’ll see.”
It’s hard to be hard on Boyle. After all, he gave us Ewan McGregor descending down a toilet in “Trainspotting.” He raised our spirits in “Slumdog Millionaire.” He kept us riveted in “28 Days Later” and “127 Hours.” He has great visual style. He always has a great score. And he usually works from a well-written screenplay. But the script for “Trance,” from Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, is so full of trickery that it skips character development.
In short, “Trance” tries too hard to be hip. It’s not. It’s just a disappointment from one of our best filmmakers.