Director: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later)
Screenplay: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Producers: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson
Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 101 min.
Hot off the heels of having the world in the palm of his hand with the Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle delivers his first feature film since the harrowing 127 Hours. Trance is a bewitching puzzle of a thriller that’s off-kilter fun from start to finish, reminding us of Boyle’s amazing ability to surprise his audience.
James McAvoy plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer who teams up with a gang of criminals in order to steal an expensive painting. However, the robbery doesn’t exactly go to plan, the painting goes missing and Simon apparently can’t remember what happened to it after taking a nasty blow to the head. The leader of the gang (Vincent Cassel) then decides to enlist the help of a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) in order to unlock the memory in Simon’s head of where the painting is located.
In the hands of a lesser director, this complex tale of greed, sex and obsession would become convoluted and fold under the weight of its own ambition. However, Boyle is one of the most accomplished directors around and he stays fully in control of this tricky story.
It’s a whole load of fun trying to unravel the puzzle along the way but the movie reveals its bag of secrets bit by bit, slowly but surely, giving you hints and clues along the way so that it doesn’t end up feeling like a cheat by the end. It achieves that sought after feeling of the audience wanting to be fooled and not only accepting it but ultimately appreciating it. It does what all good mystery thrillers should do and stays one step ahead of the audience.
The film is also wholly fascinating in the portrayal of its characters. It plays around with audience expectation, who you root for, who you’re supposed to root for and you’re never quite sure what the characters are going to do next or how their actions will reflect the outcome. In that way it’s a pleasingly unpredictable experience, increasingly splitting off into directions you didn’t initially expect. It may be chaotic in places but you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice or care.
A lot of the film’s success is down to the trio of performances at the center of it. McAvoy is always a watchable presence but he brings a unique, edgy dynamic to the proceedings here. Cassel, one of the most brilliantly charismatic actors working today, is as fascinating to watch as ever. And Dawson is sultry and unpredictable in a role that gleefully plays around with the femme fatale persona.
Set to a pulsing soundtrack, Trance is a slick, stylish thriller that, like its central premise, messes with your head in the best of ways. Any wheel spinning around the middle section doesn’t last for long when it takes off into a bravura, genuinely surprising finale. It’s a film that takes you by the scruff of the neck from the get-go, bombarding you with twists and turns and leaving it down to you to figure it out as it goes along. You’re never quite sure where it’s going and that’s the best kind of compliment you can pay it.
Click “play” to see the trailer:
This review was previously published at Thoughts On Film.