Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson.
Rating: Running Time: 101 mins.
Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer, is involved in the well planned theft of a painting valued at over £20 million, but at the last moment during the heist he double crosses Frank (Vincent Cassel), the leader of the thieves, and shocks him with a guard’s tazer, which results in Frank hitting Simon on the head with the butt of a shotgun and knocking him out. When Frank opens the package expecting to see the picture, he instead finds an empty frame. Later in hospital, Simon is hailed as a hero in the robbery despite the picture still having been stolen, and returns home to his flat to find it ransacked by Frank’s men looking for the picture.
Questioned by Frank, he claims that he cannot remember what happened or where the picture is because of the knock on the head, and after being tortured, Frank believes him, deciding to take a different approach. He arranges for Simon to meet with hypno-therapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who will try to help him remember what happened during the heist, and what he did with the painting.
That’s the opening premise of the movie, but only roughly covers the first 20 or so minutes of the movie’s 101 minutes running time. What follows is a sort of psychological cat and mouse game as Simon attempts to piece together his memory, which is not perfect since memory is subjective. It’s difficult to explain anything further than that because there are some twists and turns along the way that make for some impressive scenes and moments where the rug is well and truly pulled out from underneath the characters and the viewer.
This is achieved as Danny Boyle does the interesting thing of showing scenes both set in the present, and also set in the past as we see Simon’s memories, and we see them as he remembers them, meaning that if they are imperfect or confusing, we see them in such a way. During the hypnosis scenes where Elizabeth places Simon in a trance, we are taken into his subconscious to experience his state of mind as he is being guided by her, and this makes for an interesting watch, having a way of taking us both in to the mind of the character of Simon, and away from a stagnant therapy room. It gives us something more to concentrate on, or be distracted by, and for a lot of the time this is incredibly successful on both fronts.
There is so much going on in some scenes, that you are overloaded with it, and there’s a point towards the end of the second act where it feels as if the movie’s narrative is starting to become too convoluted and falling apart, but once you’ve seen the movie as a whole, it seems apparent that this is by design, and this is where Danny Boyle has been incredibly clever by showing scenes in a sort of non-linear jumbled collection so that the viewer has all of the information that they need for the third act, even if they don’t realise it. Had the movie continued in this fashion, it would have been a complete train wreck, but as stated, this is the genius of Danny Boyle, essentially setting us up for a fall and then providing us a safety net at the bottom. It makes for a satisfying conclusion at the end of the movie that hits with the impact of a sucker punch to the gut, only without the bruising.
The three main cast members all give excellent performances, though James McAvoy completely outshines both Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson as the confused Simon, finding himself stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The only thing I didn’t especially find worked was the supporting characters that comprise the members of Frank’s crew, unfortunately have little to do for most of the movie, and are basically background characters that are there purely to apply the pressure to Simon’s character. They are a necessity in that regard, but not there for much else, and had they been more built up characters, the movie may have felt overcrowded, so this is probably a good thing. There is also a love trio sub-plot that felt oddly out of place during the movie, but does work overall once you’ve seen the movie in it’s entirety.
Trance is an intelligent psychological thriller where the viewer is rewarded for paying attention to events, and definitely one of those movies that you will pick up and get more from subsequent viewings, if only because your memory of it may not be perfect as this movie shows. The things you’ll already know in subsequent viewings will make you aware of how everything fits into the jumbled puzzle that is Simon’s memory – there really is that much depth in this movie, in less experienced hands this may not have worked, but Danny Boyle has worked his magic and put together a fantastic movie. Do yourself a favour, go and see this and be sure to avoid any spoilers for the last half of the movie.