Director Danny Boyle’s first feature film since 127 Hours (2010), the sleek and sexy but slightly flawed psycho-thriller Trance is Inception by way of Billy Wilder’s Charade. An occasionally too-convoluted slice of neo-noir, it is nevertheless a fun ride that reminds us to be careful when digging into dark questions, lest we be unfortunate enough to find the answers.
The twisty — and twisted — plot centers on Simon (James McAvoy) an art dealer and gambling addict who serves as the inside man in the theft of a Goya masterpiece during an art auction. Simon decides to double-cross his partners midway through the heist; unfortunately, a blow to the head from gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel at hit suavely evil best) leaves Simon unable to remember we hid the artwork.
Franck is understandably annoyed; after torture proves futile, he enlists hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to root around in Simon’s head and rejigger his memory. This, naturally, sets off a chain-reaction of improbable but engrossing events that bring about double-crosses, triple-crosses, sex, jealousy, murder, and hallucinations. To say more would give away too much; suffice to say, it’s what Basic Instinct or Sliver might have been like if talent involved had focused a little less on kink and a little more on plot.
In all fairness though, Boyle and screenwriters Joe Ahearn and John Hodge, the latter of whom collaborated on the director’s first four films, come close to going overboard on the convoluted plot twists and mind-bending manipulations of Simon’s bruised psyche. They lay it on just thick enough, and manage to get away with what would have been a steaming mess in the hands of lesser filmmakers.
Boyle’s on top of his game though, and so is his cast. McAvoy walks a fine line between desperation and an all-out nervous breakdown, while Cassel is equal parts charming and menacing. It’s Dawson, however, who dominates the film with a character whose motivations shift like a chameleons skin. Boyle balances all of this tension admirably, dressing it with just enough of his signature visual flair to make it chic without drowning it in style
It’s only been three years since Boyle took a break from film in order to direct the opening and closing ceremonies of last year’s Olympic Games (Best. Ceremonies. Ever!) but it’s seemed like longer. It’s great to have him back on the big screen, and in such fine form.