Film review: Trance

AN INDIE director coming off a popular, global event like the Olympics opening ceremony faces an impossible question: what next?

Trance (18)

Director: Danny Boyle

Running time: 117 minutes

* * *

Use those dancing nurses for an NHS musical? Run for cover with a sequel or a remake? Give Emeli Sandé the day off? Danny Boyle picks none of these options with Trance, because that’s Sandé on the soundtrack.

James McAvoy plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer who steals Goya’s Witches In The Air for a gang, but gets thumped on the head during the heist. The opening robbery is a lovely piece of Boyle apeing The Thomas Crown Affair, a slick robbery that is brought to a halt with a taser and a retaliatory blow to the head. Now Simon can’t remember where he hid the picture, even when offered a vicious manicure by gang leader Franck (Vincent Cassel).

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To help recover his memory, Franck eventually resorts to pulling the answer from ­Simon’s mind rather than his fingernails. He tells Simon to pluck a hypnotherapist’s name from his iPad, and takes him to Harley Street’s Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who has a busy surgery and a Sherlockian eye for detail. She cottons on that Simon is searching for more than his car keys, and forces Franck to accept her as a partner in the deal.

We should leave the plot there, I think, partly because Boyle has asked reviewers not to spoil his twists and turns, but also because trying to explain some of what follows might bring on the kind of nosebleed I get when someone tries to explain the plot of Lost.

Boyle is a compulsive creator of unexpected cinema, from Trainspotting to Slumdog Millionaire, and artful points along the way. For a while, Trance moves like a fairly conventional heist film, but bends into something more psychological when McAvoy starts going into hypnotic states. Sometimes, it’s like Hitchcock doing a hip Spellbound, except Hitch could not afford an effect like a chatty, decapitated Cassel.

Speaking of chatty, the soundtrack is the kind that you often hear in you-can’t-afford-me clothes boutiques: continuous, atonal, enigmatic and occasionally reminiscent of someone giving a wardrobe of clothes hangers a good shake.

Along with the question of how we can introduce Boyle to some nice new bands, Trance poses a series of formal and creative conundrums: how do you keep the momentum going in a film which is psychologically all gussied up, but eventually reveals it doesn’t have anyplace much to go?

Cassel at least has an arc with Franck, not exactly misunderstood, but not quite as vile as he first appears. Over the course of Trance he moves from repellent to almost courtly (hearing that Dawson has been abused by a boyfriend in the past, he suavely offers to pay the guy a visit). It’s a nice, knowing twist on the kind of villainous pigeonhole we usually assign Cassel in English language pictures like Eastern Promises and Oceans 12.

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McAvoy is also much improved after the silly cop chases of Welcome To The Punch, and he and Boyle set up a nice sense of Simon’s panicky mindset; however this is supposed to be Dawson’s film, and she’s a smart, sexy trip for most of the movie until John Hodge’s plot twists finally corkscrew into stylish, self-conscious daftness. Trance isn’t a bad film, just an underwhelming one, yet still worth catching if you are in a susceptible mood. «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

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