Did you ever have a sweater with a loose thread that drove you crazy? You knew that, if you tugged it, the entire thing might unravel, but you couldnt keep your fingers from twitching. Just one pull surely that lone thread wouldnt tear the garment apart, and it really was annoying Oops nothing left!
Thats Trance. But in this case, all the plot threads are loose. Question any part of this likable, visually arresting film, and it turns into laughable gibberish in seconds.
Danny Boyles movies never make literal sense anyhow, whether hes dealing with Scottish heroin addicts in Trainspotting or Bollywood aspirants in Slumdog Millionaire. Every film he directs defies belief at some point, though most inspire such goodwill that we may not mind. (I usually dont.)
But Trance stumbles around like a blind rat in a maze with no cheese at any exit: Whatever conclusion it reaches will leave us dissatisfied. It stretches probability past the snapping point, sets up narrative rules and breaks them, then turns ordinary people into beings capable of withstanding punishment that could faze Iron Man.
Thats a pity, as it starts well. Simon (James McAvoy) narrates the opening scene, a heist at an art auction. He seems to be foiling the theft of a Goya painting worth $50 million, but hes really double-crossing the other members of the gang. He tasers the leader, Franck (Vincent Cassel), who immediately punches Simon in the head hard enough to induce amnesia. (Really? You can taser someone in the neck without having any effect on him?)
The gang kidnaps Simon and forces him to choose a hypnotist who can unlock his memory. He picks Elisabeth (Rosario Dawson), who demands to be cut in on a percentage of the sale. Pretty soon shes sleeping with Franck and Simon and getting the other gang members to do whatever she demands. Or is this all in someones mind?
Joe Ahearne rewrote his 2001 TV movie of the same name, then turned it over to frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge. Neither could make us believe the mumbo-jumbo about hypnotism, which depends here on the idea that people can be made to do things when hypnotized that run counter to their deepest desires. (Hypnotists will tell you thats hogwash.)
Dawson embodies the eye-batting femme fatale, and Cassel delivers his usual blend of rough charm and suppressed menace. McAvoy lacks a strong personality as an actor, but good directors can turn that absence into an asset. (See The Last King of Scotland.) Hes at his best playing someone whos manipulable or gullible, and Boyle takes advantage of that fact here.
Boyles films always look terrific; cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who has made half a dozen with him (and won an Oscar for Slumdog), helps him achieve disorienting, hallucinatory effects that heighten suspense.
They and the writers keep us from knowing where we are for a very long time. Sooner or later, though, we start asking questions, and then we find out: Were in Wackyland.
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