DIRECTED BY Danny Boyle
STARS James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Simon (James McAvoy) has the drop on Franck (Vincent Cassel) in Trance. (Fox Searchlight)
Director Danny Boyle's mindbender of a movie Trance, suggests what would happen if Christopher Nolan ever elected to make a film while suffering from a persistent hangover.
Nolan, responsible for such twisty gems as Inception, Memento and The Prestige, would probably have to be suffering from some sort of wooziness to concoct a script like the one Boyle uses here. Written by Joe Aherne (updating his own 2001 TV-movie) and John Hodge, Trance traffics in the same sort of harrowing head trips, tantalizing plot pirouettes and potent narrative deconstructions that Nolan enjoys employing for his own cinematic house of cards. And yet Trance often comes off as Nolan Lite — it's an enjoyable thriller that would benefit from a second viewing (where it may or may not hold up), but it doesn't contain the philosophical forte or dramatic heft that charges Nolan's efforts. Still, there's no denying that it provides one heckuva ride.
Other reviewers — heck, even the studio's own press release — have revealed too many specifics, so let's tread carefully here. James McAvoy plays Simon, who works for an arts auction house in London. A group of criminals, led by the smooth Franck (Vincent Cassel), attempt to steal a valuable Goya painting but are thwarted by Simon, who hides it but then can't remember where after he receives a thump on the head. Determined to acquire the masterpiece, Franck decides that hypnotism might be the way to go; this leads them to a therapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), tasked with putting Simon under in hopes that he'll remember exactly where he stashed the portrait.
Like any good thriller worth its weight in red herrings, Trance keeps the audience guessing for the vast majority of its running time. Is Elizabeth the saga's heroine or is she a femme fatale waiting to pounce? Is Simon really the victim and Franck the perpetrator, or do their assigned roles occasionally shimmer and shift? Boyle, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (they both won Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire) and editor Jon Harris often keep viewers off balance with a hodgepodge of recurring images, but by the end, all will have staked out their rightful places in the clever plotline.
Trance is riveting enough on its own, so it's unfortunate that Boyle tries to manufacture suspense by ratcheting up Rick Smith's bombastic score: The soundtrack is frequently so loud that it drowns out the all-important dialogue (I suppose the fault might rest with the theater where I screened it rather than the print itself, but since presentations are generally impeccable in this venue, I'm more inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt). Yet even when we can't hear them, we can rest assured that these characters are busy trying to one-up each other. I won't reveal how it all works out, but it leads to revelations that are nothing less than hypnotic.