Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Danny Boyle's latest is a real showstopper. Following the relative conventionality of his recent output (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), Trance is a twisting, mind-bending mystery which unravels into a spectacularly dark and memorable finale. And memorable is an apt word, since the film uses memory (or in this case, its absence) as both a driver for the plot and the conceptual slipperiness of it to delve into the unruly dimensions of human nature in the form of the psychological subconscious. The amnesia belongs to James McAvoy's Simon, the inside man on an art gallery heist who is concussed by Vincent Cassel's gangster, Franck, after he diverts from the plan by stealing and hiding the painting in a place he cannot seem to remember. To shake the memory free, Franck forces Simon to see a hypnotherapist, Rosario Dawson's Elizabeth.
Simon's mind appears to be highly resistant to finding the memory however, and the more he is put under hypnotism by Elizabeth the more other memories shake lose and the intrigues proliferate - in the deep layers of his mind Simon is hiding more than a missing Goya. On top of that, as Simon nears the memories hidden in his brain, the line between reality and hypnotised trance starts to blur and the narrative perception of events fragments. The glossy cinematography contributes to the effect as the trance sequences segue eerily into reality, and retrospective visual markers, signifiers and motifs abound en route to the film's denouement. As a film about the human mind it speaks about the power of the unconscious and hidden psychological drives which take the waking mind hostage, and like Inception it simultaneously manages to make its audience think whilst set to the pace of a tense thriller. Of the three central performances Cassel is strong as lead gangster Franck (although perhaps in a role he can play on autopilot), but McAvoy and Dawson are the stand outs as Simon and Elizabeth, the ostensible protagonists of the film. Simon, a man with a gambling addiction who falls in with the wrong people is a character which McAvoy plays with an understated sense of heavy debt and guilt, which gradually turns to unease as more events transpire in his memory. It's an impressive performance that underlines McAvoy as one of the most talented, versatile current British actors. Rosario Dawson on the other hand arguably gives the performance of her career as Elizabeth, the benevolent hypnotherapist digging into Simon's psyche. At once beautiful, strong willed and benevolent, her ability to manipulate the mind is a foreshadow that there might be more to her than on first impression, and Dawson plays the ambiguity superbly, her demeanour a glassy surface, giving nothing away.
Trance is one of those films that revels in misdirection and is a brilliantly crafted, dark thriller, probably my favourite Danny Boyle film, and I'll be surprised if there's a film that messes with your mind more than this all year.