Trance (2013) a (mildly) belated review

I’m always curious to see works by director Danny Boyle.

When at his best, Mr. Boyle creates films that are solid entertainment and well worth watching, such as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later.  His latest works, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, were received well received by critics and did well at the box office.  Mr. Boyle would follow those two films with the head-scratching Hitchcock wannabe Trance.

Did he go three for three?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.  However, that doesn’t meant there aren’t some things in Trance worth seeing.  The acting by most of the principals is good.  The direction is interesting and there are scenes that really grip you.  The movie’s biggest problem is the story, which unfortunately veers between being unbelievable, silly, confusing, and just plain odd.

Simon (James McAvoy) works at an auction house that sells very high end expensive paintings.  During one of the auctions, there is a violent robbery and Simon follows his trained routine to pull the most prized painting to a “safe” area for storage.  Once he reaches the safe are drop off, the chief of the thieves Franck (Vincent Cassel) appears and, after knocking Simon out with the butt of his shotgun, runs away with the container he thinks houses the painting.

The thieves get away and meet in their hideout.  Upon opening the contain with the stolen painting they find all they have is an empty frame.  Naturally they are furious, and it is then revealed Simon was in on the theft all along and the trio of thieves naturally believe he has double crossed them.

The robbery, however, has left Simon with a brain injury.  After leaving the hospital, the trio of thieves get Simon and ask him where the painting is.  He tells them he can’t remember and they brutally torture him.  They soon realize he is telling the truth: He cannot remember what, if anything, he did with the painting.  The desperate thieves realize they have to use other means to get him to remember what he did.

To that end, they allow Simon to randomly -or so it appears- choose a hypnotherapist to get to the lost memory.  Enter Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), hypnotherapist and, we quickly realize, mystery woman who appears to know far more about what is going on than she lets on..

What follows are a lot of mind games between Elizabeth and the thieves and the quest for the missing painting.

Trance features many moving parts, but the central premise, that these street-toughs would willingly allow this hypnotherapist in their midst so willingly is awfully –awfully– far fetched.

I can’t help but suspect that Mr. Boyle was hoping to create a mind-bender of a movie along the lines of Vertigo.  But, again, the premise proves too hard to believe to begin with and many of the subsequent revelations -some of which are hallucinations- create difficulties for the viewers to follow.

Is Simon ultimately a pawn (note the character’s name…Simon says?).  What is the real relationship between Elizabeth and he?  And what is the relationship between Elizabeth and Franck?  I understand the use of cues and suggestion but given that some of the sequences we see are nothing more than hallucinations we are sometimes left putting too many pieces together on our own.  Note that I haven’t even broached the subject of Elizabeth’s…uh…shaving preferences.

In the end, I have to give Trance a pass.  There’s plenty of energy and skill both before and behind the cameras, but the story needed much more work.