Trance, latest film from Danny Boyle of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame, is a movie I find comparable to Christopher Nolan’s Inception in a couple of ways. Both use interesting visuals in stories about a group of criminals utilizing mind-delving techniques that play with both the conceptions of both the characters and the audience. However, they are also similar in that these premises are made needlessly convoluted and once you look past the interesting idea; there isn’t a lot of character depth or writing to really carry it.
The movie begins with central character Simon (James McAvoy) working at an art auction where he’s tasked with preserving the most valuable works in worst case scenarios. Whilst we see this, we are aided with narration from McAvoy that ultimately proves pointless in the overall scope of the film.
It is soon thereafter revealed that McAvoy is part of a group of art thieves, and while he was supposed to hand the art off to an accomplice, Franck (Vincent Cassel), he hid it, and after a blow to the head, cannot recall where he did so, nor why. Forced to see a hypnotist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), to seep into his subconscious and find the painting’s location, the trio find themselves caught in a triangle of double-crossings, love, and vengeance, all taking place within one another’s psyches.
There is a sense of unease that the movie creates due to commendable cinematography and tricks of the camera. The utilization of negative space, Dutch angles, mirror/reflection usage, and creative shot transitions all make the experience feel off—in a good way. This is complimented by the score, done by longtime partner of Boyle, Rick Smith. The usage of techno and electric music makes the experience all the more stylistic. Unfortunately, there isn’t much substance beneath the style.
The characters have little characterization or complexities to them, though the leads do commendable jobs in portraying the weak material (especially Dawson). What we do learn about them is fed to use through expositional dialogue rather than allowing them to be fleshed out naturally. Furthermore, the movie feels needlessly complex. Similar to Inception, Elizabeth’s use of hypnotism takes the characters into different layers so that the audience isn’t quite sure whether what we’re watching is reality or not. It’s confusing for the sake of it, doesn’t try to meet you half way, and makes the middle to ending acts feel meandering. Admittedly I may have missed details in all that transpired, but then my question still stands: why did it have to be so hard to follow in the first place?
Ultimately, the movie grows tiring as it piles on unnecessary nudity, violence, and confusing plot threads that end up tangling everything up and making a confusing mess. The saving grace is the style—the music and visuals. But there isn’t enough to really engross you in the trance.