Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
Take a pen and a piece of paper to Danny Boyle’s latest film, Trance, because when it’s over you’re going to want to try to sort out its tangled web of plot twists. I can’t promise that that will actually help, and I’m actually pretty certain that if you sort out all the threads you’ll discover that Rosario Dawson’s character is a little bit of an idiot, and if you hold one plot twist up to scrutiny you may discover that it exists solely for the purpose of a full-frontal nude scene by Dawson, but you may at least start to feel like the narrative ground has solidified beneath your feet. That all might sound like criticism, but it’s actually not. While I think that Trance probably falls apart if you think about it too much, it’s an exhilarating ride while you’re watching it.
Trance begins (and I use the word “begins” loosely) with a robbery at an art auction where art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) seemingly tries to play the hero by saving a painting and pays a violent price when confronted by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the ringleader of the gang of thieves. In truth, Simon was in on the plot but appears to have double-crossed Franck, who escapes capture by the authorities but then discovers that the painting has been cut out of the frame and is now missing. Franck and his goons work Simon over in an attempt to get answers about the whereabouts of the painting, but Simon insists that the blow to the head he received from Franck during the robbery has caused him to forget what he did with the painting. When torture has no effect on jogging Simon’s memory, Franck suggests that they give hypnosis a try and sends Simon in to see Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) so that she can take a pass at unlocking the secrets that Simon is hiding in his unconscious.
Elizabeth quickly realizes that Simon is in distress and decides that the best way around that is to directly confront Franck and his gang and begin working with them and Simon. As she begins unravelling Simon’s psyche, he seems to start falling in love with her – and maybe so does Franck, though “love” might be too strong a word. Although the plot remains very much about finding the missing painting, it also becomes about a love triangle and about how, before the triangle could even take its shape, the hidden relationships between certain characters planted the seeds for the theft plot in the first place. I’m reluctant to reveal any more about the plot (to be honest, I fear that I’ve already revealed too much), but suffice it to say there are several more twists and, in the end, you end up in a completely different story than you thought you were entering into.
The success of Trance depends in no small part on the abilities of its three principals, all of whom are called upon to make the kind of shift in his or her character which, in lesser hands, would derail the project entirely. In many ways, McAvoy and Cassel play mirror images of each other, one beginning the story as the victim and the other as the sinister tough guy, and then slowly exchanging roles with the changing fortunes of the story. Dawson, meanwhile, has to maintain Elizabeth as something of an enigma, whose motivation (and loyalty) is almost always in flux. The actors handle the transitions well, finding enough solid ground in their respective characters that the changes don’t seem to come entirely out of nowhere, and delivering performances that are subtle enough to provide the necessary flexibility to get them from the starting point all the way through to the end.
Written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, Trance has a story which, like its characters, is constantly shifting before your eyes. The narrative contortions come fast and furious which, in conjunction with Boyle’s hyper style, leaves you feeling wonderfully disoriented as you watch. Trance begins as one type of story – the hapless everyman hero who stumbles his way into a plot beyond his ability to contain – and ends as another – a revenge melodrama – and it has a grand finale is alternately crazy awesome and straight up crazy. As I said at the top, I’m not sure how much of the film truly works when you stop to think about it, but there is truly never a dull moment here.