After taking a little time off from filmmaking to direct a staggeringly great version (actually two versions) of "Frankenstein" for the London stage and act as ringleader for a little event known as the opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics, filmmaker Danny Boyle (127 HOURS, 28 DAYS LATER, TRAINSPOTTING, and the Oscar-winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) has returned to movies with TRANCE, a classic piece of mind-fuck entertainment that will leave you with your head spinning, eyes wide and jaw gaping. I'm not really sure Boyle is going for smart, but I'll be damned if this film isn't clever and a total visual blast.
I should also add that TRANCE is going to be damn difficult to write about because there are layers to what you should know going in. Ideally, you'll know nothing. But realistically, it's probably OK to know a little plot so that you can focus more on the different layers being operated on and peeled away as the film goes on. What is perfectly safe to tell you is that James McAvoy (WANTED, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) plays Simon, who works at an auction house that specializes in fine art, including a particularly rare Goya painting that he plans on stealing with the help of a small group of thugs led by Frank (my current favorite French actor, Vincent Cassel of BLACK SWAN, EASTERN PROMISES, and MESRINE) who have paid off Simon's massive gambling debt and expect the crime to be the payback.
The only problem is, during the heist Simon is supposed to get into a scuffle with Frank (for appearances' sake) before Frank grabs the painting from him. But Frank gets too rough and clocks Simon on the head with his gun, putting Simon the hospital with a bad case of memory loss. It turns out that Simon took an extra precaution when he swiped the painting and hid it somewhere only he knew about, so now the damn thing is lost. The gang tortures Simon for a while to get the location of the painting, but this results in nothing, so they decide to pick a hypnotherapist at random to hypnotize Simon and retrieve the memory. The therapist, Elizabeth Lamb, is played by Rosario Dawson, and she's very good at her job, so much so that she realizes pretty early on that Simon is in trouble, and she wants to help him.
And that's as much plot as you need to know, but that's only about the first 30 minutes of TRANCE, which takes turns being trippy, grotesque, erotic (not surprisingly, Simon finds ways to work the lovely doctor into the deeper recesses of his fantasies), and often very funny—whether that's intentional or not is irrelevant. It's insanely entertaining, even if Boyle is winking at us at times. I prefer to think that's his way of saying, "You're taking this seriously? Shame on you."
The story almost dares us to get comfortable and think we know what's going on. It stacks manipulators upon manipulators, and double-crosses occur as frequently as alliances are formed. Despite the many scenes of hypnosis, the film rarely has us doubting what is real and what isn't; you always know where you are, but best of luck attempting to unravel the meanings of all of Simon's visions while he's under. TRANCE has wild, messy bursts of violence, and in its climactic moments Boyle even manages to piece together a gorgeous and beautifully choreographed bit of action that manages to be lovely as it defies the laws of physics, space and time. I'm not sure if I want to applaud or slap writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, but if their script can inspire Boyle to get this creative, I guess I'll let them slide... this time. I'm not sure I could pass a test on TRANCE (although one more viewing ought to make that possible), but I know that it held my interest and sometimes made me giddy, and that counts for a lot.