The latest film from Danny Boyle is slick, but it never completely makes up its mind as to whether or not it wants to be sensational fun or aim for higher art. It’s like someone squished together Headhunters, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Inception but left out the shocks, the heart, and a sensible third act. It’s not a total waste. I don’t think any Boyle film is ever without some merit. It’s a disjointed film, which is appropriate considering the hypnosis plot device, but it never commits.
The movie begins with a thrilling heist. Vincent Cassel and his crew rob an art auction where James McAvoy works. Cassel is double-crossed and needs a memory locked inside McAvoy’s damaged brain in order to secure his big score. It’s at this point they enlist the services of Rosario Dawson playing a highly skilled hypo-therapist who’s hiding mysterious secrets of her own. The film then unfolds in a series of sessions as Dawson pokes around McAvoy’s head while everyone tries to stay one step ahead of each other.
Femme fatales and amnesia are pretty standard cliches at this point, but Trance does a good job of setting it up. It’s executed uniquely enough that you’ll go for it, at least initially. Part of what works so well is Anthony Dod Mantle shoots the crap out of the movie. Every shot is either a Dutch angle or some type of split or fractured framing. He’s having a good time and it shows. McAvoy and Cassel are always charismatic on-screen. Their parts have some interesting role reversals and both actors navigate the turns skillfully. Dawson has always been a brave actress and I credit what she’s game for, but she’s lacking in believable dimensions. It’s a problem with how she’s written but she doesn’t bring much more to the part other than her boldness.
It doesn’t help that she has to deliver the big info dump/reveal speech near the end. The film was already getting wobbly before this moment but this part is where it loses control. With these type of twisty brain puzzlers, and it’s the same with con-fims, there’s always that moment where we learn what’s really been going on. Well in Trance this moment couldn’t come soon enough. There’s only so much obfuscation one can take. When it does happen it hits with a thud. It’s not the “aha!” you crave but the “huh?” you dismiss. It’s not a logic problem or the film cheating. It doesn’t work because it goes for pathos. The movie that features grisly violence and pubic hair for important plot development tries to shove genuine emotion at you right at the finish line.
It’s not impossible to do such a thing, but it just doesn’t work here. The polished bits, the tricksy fun, that was working. If anything it should have been more outlandish. If you’re going to go off the rails, take a page from Body Double and do it in style. Be salaciously entertaining without feeling guilty. Revel in the lurid. Trance is a movie that almost goes there but forgets itself along the way.