Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani
Review by Joshua Starnes
An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
The crime film is a tricky beast; there is no two ways about. On the one hand, the plot needs to be appropriately twisty, surprising the audience at every bend. On the other, even past masters like Raymond Chandler have discovered the ease of disappearing down a rabbit hole and discovering too late his no bottom.
It's a problem Danny Boyle has fallen into as well in "Trance."
Right off the bat we're introduced to Simon (James McAvoy) an auctioneer at a high end Sotheby's-like firm, informing us of the difficulties of actually robbing a place like that. So it comes as no surprise when Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his boys actually do exactly that in the opening five minutes. What does come as a surprise is the painting they were after not being in the case they have stolen. In fact, it is not anywhere and the only person who may know where it is, is Simon himself. If only he could remember what he'd done with it.
On the surface it's an excellent idea for a crime thriller, taking a "Roshamon" like approach to keep the crime both in the past and front and center, making the character's themselves the scenes of the crime and the McGuffin.
As the robbers, and Simon, become increasingly desperate they eventually hit on the idea of taking Simon to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to try and get him to relive the robbery and remember what he'd done with the object in question.
And then it gets complicated.
Boyle, of course, can do something like this in his sleep—it's the perfect material (co-written, in fact, by longtime collaborator John Hodge, they're first since 'A Life Less Ordinary') for him and his particularly kinetic style of storytelling. He's not quite doing that but somewhere along the way the thread of the story is irrevocably lost.
At its heart, "Trance" is really about the tortured relationship between these three people, leaving the eternal question hanging of who is telling the truth and what does each of them really want. It would be great if it worked as well is it seems like it should. Unfortunately some of the typecasting going on makes it very difficult to go along when the characters start to turn against type. Particularly Frank and Elizabeth—nothing works if the strength of their relationship isn't quickly and easily believable. But there's no way it can be because Elizabeth is also the designated femme fatale, which means she must always be a mystery to everyone.
To an extent you can just give up on that let "Trance" wash over you. Even if the script is not the best he's worked with, Boyle knows how to put a story over and "Trance" is no exception.
Or at least it's not right up until the climax when everyone suddenly realizes nowhere near enough hints have been laid out to explain how this could possibly work and Dawson has to bring the film to a screeching halt as she lays out a torrent of exposition to fill in all the remaining backstory. And even then, it doesn't really do that, particularly as Simon's constant hallucinations continue to make it difficult to decide if you really should believe what you see.
Complex of character and motivation is good, and so is surprise, but there must be balance to everything. Rule number one of the director's handbook should be 'if you cannot explain your story without a massive information dump at some point, it's not working.'
"Trance" breaks that rule all over the place and it shows. It's fun-ish, but the same way a story needs a good beginning to draw you in, it needs a good ending to leave you satisfied. "Trance" will not leave you satisfied.