Review: Trance

TranceMovie Poster

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.

19 Comments

  1. This sounds great. I haven’t been blown away by a Danny Boyle film since Trainspotting to be honest (although I haven’t seen Sunshine yet), but this looks like something I’ll enjoy even if it has flaws or niggles. As for Boyle’s last few films, 127 Hours was decent but didn’t live up to expectations for me. I didn’t think much of Slumdog Millionaire at all – the central relationship never established itself strongly enough for me to care. And, I hate to say it, but I was never a huge fan of 28 Days Later either, other than the incredible opening half an hour.

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    • I’m a much bigger fan of him than you, evidently; I loved Slumdog and thought 127 Hours was a harrowing and vibrant film – the feeling coming out of that film was incredible. 28 Days Later is one of my favourite horror movies actually. Ironically, I’m not a fan of Trainspotting!

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  2. Actually DANNY BOYLE’s last truly GREAT film was SUNSHINE, a film that has taken some time to come into its own, but at this point, lets just all agree it’s a goddamn masterpiece.

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    • I am in love with Sunshine.. until the last half hour when it becomes Elm Street in space. To me that’s what stops it from being a true masterpiece but I still love it. That first hour is about as good as modern sci-fi gets.

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  3. I’ve come to realize that Boyle is my sixth man when it comes to favorite living directors. Dude just constantly churns out awesome.

    Sunshine and 28 Days both blow me away with each watch.

    i can’t wait to see Trance!!!!

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    • It appears I’m in your camp – even with missteps like The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary, he always churns out films that are at the very least interesting and mostly great. I reckon the R3 team will love Trance! :)

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      • Actually, Trance is the first Danny Boyle film that could be described as a snoozer. I found the whole thing rather boring…Mrs. Dawson and her shaved ladyparts aside. For a film that is supposed to fit together either like clockwork, or a hallucinatory nightmare, it shockingly does neither, and just clips along until it is done.

        All I could picture is how much this film would be better with Ewan McGregor (Or Cillian Murphy) in the lead role.

        James McAvoid.

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        • As hugely flawed as Trance is, I am at a loss at how you still think Upstream Color is so great but would find this boring. ( I was thinking of UC frequently during Trance largely bc of the characters tracing back a memory/their connection, hence the new round of UC bashing)

          Boyle is still at the end of the day a kinetic director with a superior and unique sense of photography, sound, menace, works great with actors.

          Trance is lobster with too much iodine in it. It’s tasty for a while but it leaves you with nasty cramps. Upstream Color is boiled celery.

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          • I watched Upstream and Trance back to back. Here is the difference: Trance wants me to think about it how clever its plotting is, a lot of sound and fury carnival theatrics (which are fine) but by the end of it, it feels more like a pleasant way to pass the time – I was entertained mostly, but the whole ‘thinking’ aspect of it is a jazzed up Miss Marple.

            Upstream has ambiguity, and a mystery and requires thinking but you are meant to think about something more than plot mechanics, you are meant to piece together the thematic glue of the story, and having pieced it together think of what it has to say about topics such as environmentalism, pantheism, identity, humanity as virus in a Gaian philosophy sense, the nature of narcotics, the blurring dimension between synthetic drugs and natural drugs, free will, the story as veiled biblical parables, the implications of consciousness downstream within a process neither intelligent design nor evolution entirely, with ambiguity enough to allow the viewers to bring their values into the art.

            I would rather puzzle over heady questions of existence than whether or not McAvoy was hypnotized in scene 185 or not.

          • it is a weird coincidence that both focus so much on the act of persuasion, that both focus heavily on one color (Trance – red, Upstream – blue) and that both have a scene where a character is put into one of those brain scanner machines and the red lines are criss-crossing the protagonist’s face.

          • “Trance wants me to think about it how clever its plotting is”

            And Upstream Color wants you to think it’s abstract BS is masking something profound, which it isn’t. Trance has it’s pretentions but in comparison knows it’s just making a piece of entertainment.

            All of UC’s references are to me no different than Lost’s endless philosophical references, but without actual characters or performances or even the most basic TV level showmanship to make it worthwhile. if you’re gonna give me a steak, cook the fucking steak.

          • I saw the films back-to-back too Rot and TRANCE was the clear winner in my opinion.

            There is nothing wrong with a film being a pleasant way to pass the time and I very much enjoyed TRANCE. I thought the film was very well executed and I felt that the film was money well spent. Its the type of film that I will happily buy and watch multiple times. I’m not one of those people who consider mainstream entertainment “low art.” I view every film on equal footing, albeit taking the type of film into consideration.

            As such, it’s not really fair to compare the film to UPSTREAM COLOR, which is very obviously a film not meant for mainstream consumption. I have been heavily conflicted about my opinions on this film since I saw it. I have been saying that I like the film, but I understand why folks like Goon and Andrew haven’t been responding too positively to it.

            Unlike TRANCE, UPSTREAM COLOR is a film that I would have to rewatch out of necessity, not because I actively want to. I could easily head over to the Bell Lightbox and watch the film 2-3 more times, so I can try and see why everyone is gushing over it.

            However, I don’t think I’m willing to put in that much of a commitment for the film. I might check out the film again when it’s available on blu-ray, but I don’t think it’s worth the time or money to see it again theatrically (especially when there’s so much else for me to see).

            So, while a lot of folks have already said that UPSTREAM COLOR is going to top their end of year lists (even though we are only a quarter through the year), I can say right now that the film probably won’t even be on it (though TRANCE might).

          • To me, on top of the thematic pleasures of Upstream, I found it viscerally impressive as a body horror Lynchian nightmare, enhanced by the hypnotic creep of the score… when it ended I felt jolted back into the real world. It is an icky movie and on par with something like INLAND EMPIRE in how things feel pieced together according to emotional resonance – the first person experience of being hypnotized like Kris in the beginning carries over through the editing style of the film – we too feel like we cannot look directly at the face of the story, get only glimpses, to piece together. Rather than feel bored, I felt intensely involved in it because of this stylistic choice.

  4. The Cinecast will be a love fest then. Though McAvoy isn’t the problem. The “1990s thriller” storyline was the problem.

    There is so much dumbness in this movie it really REALLY makes me disappointed. I didn’t hate it (visually it’s great) but yeah pretty much bored.

    And the final 10 minutes of spelling out everything is almost an automatic fail for me with any movie.

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    • After the first 20 minutes, you kinda know exactly what type of movie Trance was going to be. So I just kind of sat back and waited for either 1) the “explanation” ending or 2) the “open to interpretation” ending. Meanwhile, I just looked at the pretty pictures. There was no sense of danger or stakes, because I knew that each scene could be false, and I didn’t care to try and unravel the “layers”.

      All in all, it was great to look at, but just “pretty good” as a movie.

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