PLOT: An art gallery auctioneer, Simon (James McAvoy) becomes the inside man on an art-heist. After being hit on the head during the job, he forgets where he stashed the painting, and his partners, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) take him to a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) who they hope can unlock his lost memories.
REVIEW: TRANCE is Danny Boyle having a good time. It won’t be confused for one of his top-tier films (like TRAINSPOTTING, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or 28 DAYS LATER), but it’s certainly Boyle at the most playful he’s been in years. He hasn’t really done a thriller since his debut, SHALLOW GRAVE, but he hasn’t lost a beat bringing all the genre-bending flash and energy to the film that we’ve come to expect by a guy that’s among the best in the business.
The premise seems simple enough, with a heist and a hero that’s clearly in over his head. McAvoy brings the right amount of wrong-headed confidence to his part, with Simon obviously underestimating his partners in crime, particularly Vincent Cassel’s Franck, who’s far from the thug Simon seems to dismiss him as. But, unlike SHALLOW GRAVE, this time Boyle doesn’t seem satisfied with going the Hitchcock route, and whatever kind of movie you may think TRANCE is going in, you’ll probably be surprised.
The key to TRANCE ends up being Rosario Dawson’s hypnotherapist, Elizabeth. I’ve been a huge fan of Dawson’s for years, and this is probably her juiciest role to date. She’s far more than the window dressing or femme fatale she comes across as in the trailer. Like many classic noir heroines, you’ll never be exactly sure of where her alliances lie, but there’s enough going on here with her that after the various reveals it would probably be interesting to watch TRANCE all over again just to see what Dawson does with her performance. This is really a tour-de-force for her and she sinks her teeth into Joe Ahearn and frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge’s twisty script. Like Dawson, Vincent Cassel’s Franck also ends up being a refreshingly three-dimensional baddie. Cassel manages to balance simmering rage and menace with a surprisingly empathetic side, and he’s far from your usual villain.
One of the things about TRANCE is that you’ll never really be sure about who’s conning who, or what’s really going on, but even at its most complex TRANCE zips along at a frantic pace. Say what you will about Boyle, but the man is never boring, and TRANCE is paced like lightning, aided along by a propulsive score by Underworld’s Rick Smith. Underworld has always been a mainstay of Boyle’s movies (who can forget ‘Born Slippy’ from TRAINSPOTTING?), and the score is perfect.
Even better is the ultra-stylish cinematography by Boyle mainstay Anthony Dod Mantle, who- through his work with Boyle, has probably done more for popularizing DV photography than anyone else. At times low-key, at others psychedelic, Mantle’s photography is beautiful.
My only problem with TRANCE is that while its maze like structure is exciting, it loses a bit of momentum towards the end. It builds up to this ultra-surreal level, with one character whose head has been mostly blown off coming back for a little chat- but then it pulls the rug out from under us in its final couple of reveals. Once the credits rolled, I wasn’t sure the conclusion really worked, but after thinking about it a bit it started to grow on me. Again- I think TRANCE is a movie that will definitely benefit from repeat viewings.
So, while it’s not one of Boyle’s best films, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun, and a slick energetic ride. Boyle’s really one of my favorite directors, and TRANCE is certainly a worthy addition to his canon. The cast is spot on, the film looks and sounds great, and the 100 minute running time never drags. I highly recommend checking it out- but then again, if you’re a fan of Boyle you don’t need me to convince you.