Review: Trance

Barbed with graphic visuals and a sharp plot that should be a conversation starter


Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
Length: 101 minutes
Rating: ★★★★☆

Following the success of 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire and last summer’s Olympic opening spectacle, Danny Boyle has been enveloped by the bosom of British national pride. Departing from heart-warming romance, Trance places violence and vulnerability right at the heart.

What could have easily been a critique of excess and greed is instead a complex story of the dynamics of power. Following a head injury suffered during a heist carried out on a London auction house, out-of-his-depth auctioneer Simon (McAvoy) is missing some very important memories, and a £27 million Goya painting. Undergoing hypnotherapy then dredges a sinister past to the surface. McAvoy’s deft performance sees his character gradually unravel under watch of gangster, Frank, in which Vincent Cassel reprises familiar sleazy territory but here lends a tenderness to his ruthless gangster persona.

Returning to Boyle’s gritty roots, the constant uniting thread of Trance is psychological brutality. Hypnosis – easy prey of cliché – collides reality with trance-states to reveal the susceptibility of the human mind. Intense bursts of graphic imagery are central to this film but the true terror manifests itself in the subconscious of the characters as memories become indistinguishable from concrete experience. Notably, the sway of power is held by psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Lamb, the only female of a machismo cast. Rosario Dawson brings a determined femininity to this role, skilfully offsetting both male protagonists.

One inherent problem with Trance is that, on first viewing, its intricacies go somewhat unnoticed and the film can appear superficial. Only afterwards can you even begin to riddle through the story. It’s also a little over-polished at times, appearing more like an expensive Apple advert. Despite this, Boyle maintains his ability to create long-enduring images. The explicit material in Trance is arguably gratuitous (and not in a good, Tarantino way) to the point that it could be attempting a kind of absurd unreality, but propels the narrative forwards.

Boyle has with Trance created a beautifully shot film which, despite minor flaws, will provoke discussion.

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