Listen to the Sound of My Voice

Review: ‘Trance’ is a hypnotizing thriller

April 12, 2013

Trance is your biennial reminder that Danny Boyle is one of our greatest living directors. I worry it will also be a reminder that Hollywood remains unable to unleash his genius on the masses.

Boyle’s latest is a twisty, sexy treatise on identity and memory wrapped up in a heist flick. It’s Inception meets Memento by way of The Thomas Crown Affair with a dash of The Bank Job thrown in for local color.

The opening sequence is a bravura piece of filmmaking: a propulsive ride that takes us through an armed robbery during the auction of a Goya painting worth more than 25 million pounds. Viewed from the perspective of Simon (James McAvoy), a junior auctioneer who has been taught that in an emergency the first priority is to get the most valuable piece of art out of the room (but not at the cost of one’s life), the screen practically buzzes with energy. Jauntily but tightly shot and given a muscular electronic soundtrack, the sequence rivals any I can remember from a heist flick not directed by Michael Mann.

But the robbery is only part of the story. It’s an important plot device, to be sure, and the MacGuffin that gets the film going and keeps the parties interested.

Boyle’s real interest, however, is how memory creates identity.

Simon takes a nasty knock on the noggin during the theft and cannot quite remember what took place in its immediate aftermath. He enlists the aid of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help the memories resurface.

However, in the course of Simon’s journey, he comes to realize that something is not right. Mixed up in his skull are real memories buried under created memories hidden under false memories. Unraveling this maze will lead to the Goya, but the cost will be high for all involved.

Winning performances are delivered all around. McAvoy and Dawson’s chemistry is perfect. A team of hoods, headed by the sadly underutilized Frenchman Vincent Cassel, inject just the right amount of menace and dark humor into the proceedings to keep audiences off-kilter.

Boyle also nails the soundtrack, mixing the perfect amount of urgency and calmness, frivolity and heaviness, at just the right moments.


Trance should be a no-brainer to market: "From the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later comes a humorous, new thriller featuring the star of X-Men: First Class and Wanted."

Instead of a wide release aimed at the mass market, however, it is being platformed: Rather than debuting on 3,000 screens at once, it opened last week in Los Angeles and New York City and is gradually expanding a few cities at a time (it will be on 438 screens this weekend). Advertising has been light, as best as I can tell. Audience awareness seems low.

Hollywood simply does not know what to do with Danny Boyle.

Slumdog Millionaire, which won a boatload of Oscars and grossed more than $377 million worldwide, was almost relegated to a straight-to-DVD release in the United States. His follow-up, 127 Hours, died during platforming and maxed out at just 916 screens.

2007’s Sunshine, one of the best sci-fi releases of the last decade, grossed less than $4 million when studios couldn’t figure out how to market it. Audiences even resisted The Beach, his 2000 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his first post-Titanic role. That picture grossed just under $40 million domestically on a $50 million budget.

Foreign audiences are more susceptible to Boyle’s charms. Overseas box office takes frequently make up for the less-than-impressive results in America. But maybe I’m simply being greedy. Maybe I should just be happy that Boyle gets to do his thing without too much hassle from the studios.

Still, it’s frustrating to see a masterful director who expertly combines every aspect of cinema—skilled performances from a wide range of actors; amazing soundtracks; inventive cinematography—receive so little love at the box office.

Maybe Trance, an intelligent, sexy thriller perfectly designed to wow mass audiences and critics alike, can break that trend.

Published under: Movie Reviews