April 5, 2013



TRANCE:  Watch It At Home – Tricky But Unsatisfying Thriller From Danny Boyle

TRANCE is both extremely clever and remarkably stupid.  I wish I could explain exactly how, but Danny Boyle’s thriller, written by John Hodge and Joe Ahearne, has the kind of story that piles reversals on twists on reveals, so there’s not much that can be said about it that wouldn’t qualify as a spoiler.

The premise, at least, can be explained.  Simon (James McAvoy) works at a London art auction house, and because his gambling addiction has him in desperate need of cash, he joins forces with gangster Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Franck’s minions to steal a $25M+ Goya.  Except things don’t, of course, go as planned, and in the course of the robbery, Simon is hit on the head.  When he regains consciousness, he’s unable to remember where he stashed the painting.  After ransacking Simon’s apartment and subjecting him to very intense interrogation, Franck comes up with a new plan:  perhaps under hypnosis, Simon will be able to conquer his amnesia.  Enter the beautiful Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who Simon picks from a list to be his hypnotherapist.  Simon, it turns out, is easy to put into a trance, and the process begins–but naturally most is not as it seems.

You can’t exactly call Trance‘s ultimate reveal a cheat, because there are plenty of hints from early on that Something Else is happening, and even a few pointed clues as to the general direction of the Something Else.   But when the explanation comes in the final reel, it turns on such an outrageous series of coincidences and unlikelihoods that there’s barely any logic to the story at all.  (Die-hards may want to believe that there’s yet another Something Else happening outside the corners of the frame that explains the lapses, a la the debates over Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but I’ve seen Inception, and Trance is no Inception.)  Worse yet, the nature of the revelations is such that it pulls the story from being an airy heist thriller into something that wants to be more emotionally weighty–but the material can’t begin to sustain such a shift.  Instead of making the pieces click together pleasingly, the real story makes even less sense than the original one.

Boyle is a wonderful technician, and even though Trance doesn’t hold together, it’s frequently fun to watch, especially in the first half.  His team has all worked with him for years, including cinematographer Antony Dod Mantle, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, editor Jon Harris, who also cut 127 Hours, and production designer Mark Tildesley (28 Days Later).  Boyle uses all these elements to provide high-class thriller elements in the first section of the story, especially depicting the heist itself, then expertly plays with them to manipulate the audience later so that it’s not entirely clear what’s happening in “reality,” and what’s in Simon’s mind.

It’s difficult to judge the acting in a story like this, because just about everyone is hiding something (whether or not they know it), but McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson certainly give their all.  Boyle, too, seems totally committed–but to what?  Trance stylishly drives itself into a brick wall, and in the end, it’s more frustrating than fun, a movie that doesn’t have the brains to be as ingenious as it needs to be.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."