Two thoughts ran through my head when the end credits rolled on the latest film from director Danny Boyle. First, Rosario Dawson is one hell of a beautiful woman. Seriously, this film will be known, even more than for its train wreck of a plot, for the infinite number of screenshots of the fully nude actress which will inevitably hit the Internet in the coming months.
And second, when you get past the smoke and mirrors, the endless twists, turns, misdirection, and Dawson’s full frontal nudity, there’s not really that much to Trance. Despite a strong set-up, the script by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge eventually crumbles under the wight of its preposterous plot. Trance is simply too complicated for its own good.
The film opens with the theft of a $25 million painting from an auction house in broad daylight by a brazen group of criminals (Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani, Wahab Sheikh, Matt Cross). Despite the best efforts of our narrator, the heroic auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) who is injured in the heist, the crooks make off with the painting.
Simon is the definition of an unreliable narrator, as the head trauma he experiences causes him to confuse the series of events during and immediately following the robbery. This in particularly bad for the auctioneer since he was the inside man of the crew who stole the painting, and he alone knows what became of it when his unexpected last-second double-cross leaves everyone empty-handed. Unable to torture the information out of his confused mind, his partners turn to a beautiful hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to try and fix Simon’s rattled brain and, through hypnosis, help Simon remember what he did with the painting.
Trance isn’t so much concerned with delivering a good story as much as it is fucking with the audience’s expectations (and little things like logic) for a couple of hours. Despite an intriguing set-up, Boyle’s latest eventually reached the breaking point of both believability and entertainment as the movie blends Simon’s memories (both real and false), hallucinations, fantasies, and actual events together while throwing plot twists at the audience like Halloween candy. The question about Trance isn’t if you’ll eventually give up on its meandering plot but when.
Also troubling is Boyle’s inability to settle on a consistent tone of for the film. At times Trance plays like a stylized thriller doing its best to hide its secrets, but in other moments it the script more resembles one of Guy Ritchie‘s more brutal affairs as the audience, along with the characters, is subjected to attempted gang rape, torture, half-blown-away corpses, and the like.
Many of the film’s problems can be tied down to two fundamental flaws in the film. First, there’s no consistent character in the movie at all. We’re given a group of villains who the movie can’t quite decide, from scene to scene, how bad they should act. Even the lesser of the evil characters perform heinous actions over the course of the film (even when doing so doesn’t really make sense to the plot or to their characters). With no one to trust, and no one to root for, Trance has the deck stacked against it before the story even begins.
Second, and just as equally troubling, is the byzantine plot of the film. I can buy Simon’s amnesia. I can buy hypnosis as a cure and doctor’s willingness to take the case. I can even buy the eventual acceptance of the rest of the crew to the unusual partnership. However as events continue to unfold and spiral out of control we’re forced to swallow increasingly hard to believe choices by characters, far too many coincidences, and a final set of twists that make it nearly impossible to take any part of the film seriously.