A friend once said he held a special affinity for Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear because "it feels like Scorsese just having fun." The same could be said for Danny Boyle's Trance, his return of sorts to crime thrillers like his 1994 feature debut, Shallow Grave.
Over the years, Boyle's budgets have grown and his collaborators have changed—for example, Anthony Dod Mantle has emerged as his regular cinematographer. The consequence is a slick, self-assured oeuvre that, in Trance, Boyle dares to juxtapose against van Gogh, Rembrandt and Delacroix. Unfortunately, the film also mirrors a piece of modern art that holds less meaning the longer you stare at it.
Introduced through a chorus of lens flares, synth bass and recital of his professional duties, Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer working at a London auction house that's robbed by Franck (Vincent Cassell) and his cartoony gang. Simon suffers a blow to the head during a heist of a Goya painting, which briefly obscures the fact that Simon is complicit with the caper, the consequence of ambling debts he owes Franck.
The blow also gives Simon amnesia, with the unfortunate result being that he forgets where he stowed away the painting. After crude means of interrogation prove fruitless, Franck turns to hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who figures out that Simon isn't there just to find, say, his missing keys. And she wants her cut.
A generally taut heist flick soon leaps down a psychological rabbit hole, as Elizabeth's therapy sessions provide more insight into Simon's past. But everything is subsumed by Boyle's stylistic mannerisms. Elizabeth is too self-assured, while Franck's patience and panache belies the portrait of a seedy British gangster. As Simon devolves into a nervy knot of neuroses, Boyle at first blurs, then obliterates, the line between reality and fancy.
Trance feels like a film made by someone auditing a community college course in hypnotherapy by day and watching Inception on repeat every night. It's captivating to look at, and I'm not (just) talking about Dawson's frequent nudity. The photography and camerawork are polished, the cast is capable (even when their characters are miswritten), and the electronica score by Underworld's Rick Smith propels Boyle's frenetic pace. But once you manage to catch your breath, the incongruities and illogic crowd out the visual acuity.
As the false endings pile up, there's the chatty big reveal that ties up the loose ends ... except it doesn't. Boyle's marriage of art and psychoanalysis implodes into an indulgent morass of mixed motives and plot twists. At one point, a character is given the option of pressing a button on a computer screen that will enable that person to "forget everything." Bleary viewers of Trance won't require any such assistance.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Dreams and jingles."