Danny Boyle received universal acclaim for his direction of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Thanks to his commitment to that, we also get to see the darker side of his work in the capital with the psychological thriller Trance, filmed at roughly the same time. While this did not get the best reception (overshadowed by said Olympics), there’s still plenty to be mesmerised by particularly when you have the likes of James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel along for the ride.
Simon (McAvoy) narrates us through the opening segment of what he does working at a fine art auction house and how everything works behind scenes. Soon a heist happens headed by Franck (Cassel) and the gang get away with a £25million piece of art. Or so they think. It is revealed that Simon is in on it but during the plan he gets hit so hard that he forgets where he put the painting.
To try and regain his memory Franck sends him to a hypnotherapist, with Simon selecting Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), apparently at random. She uses various techniques to jog his memory but what is unveiled is something deeper and more involving than all of them expected.
Sort of like a smaller, looser version of Inception, and with certainly less concentration needed, its main appeal is trying to understand where the story is taking us, moving the focus from the three leads in surprising turns. As expected the direction is sharp and the pacing is just right, with the acting from McAvoy and Cassel both displaying the emotional and disturbing side of people.
And this wouldn’t be a Boyle film without the distinctive soundtrack, because the absolute pull is the music against the predicaments of the characters. Terrifically shot using reflections to mirror their hidden motives, as well as subtle sounds to distinguish fantasy from reality, he once again shows that he can bring a bit of believability and style to a far-fetched plot.
The trouble is getting people to actually see this because it is nothing like you expect with McAvoy as a lead. He’s broken against type earlier on in the year as a hard man in Welcome to the Punch, and he sort of continues this with a frightening character shift towards the end.
However, some of the other characterisations are mishandled with their ambiguous motives causing a sudden personality change that is all too convenient. The reveal is also slightly overcooked and the ending takes things one step too far in stretching the imagination but otherwise this is a gripping dark tale that will keep you hooked until the very end, even if you do get lost now and again along the way (but that is all part of the fun).
Trance is sexy, stylish and a cluster bomb on the senses with its hypnotic visuals and alluring soundtrack. Put in Boyle’s trademark full frontal nudity (Dawson being the brave one here) and, despite being set in the same city, this could not take you anywhere further from the Olympic ceremony.