Suspicious minds – Trance review

By Simon Miraudo
April 3, 2013

Taking Danny Boyle‘s Trance seriously for even a second is not advised, should you wish to retain your sanity. Its universe will not withstand close scrutiny, or even passing scrutiny. The movie – penned by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, based on Ahearne’s 2001 telemovie –  takes a lot of liberties with the realities of hypnotherapy, and features some laughably gratuitous shots of star – and Boyle’s then girlfriend – Rosario Dawson. However, Trance, like good hypnosis, is still exciting to be caught in the middle of. The rolling of the end credits acts like a finger-snap, after which I suggest you return to your life without giving what’s transpired much further though. Easy to watch; easy to dismiss.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art aficionado who cheekily explains to us in the electric introduction just how one would go about stealing a prized painting from his auction house. Frenchman Franck (Vincent Cassel) attempts to steal Goya’s Witches in the Air, seemingly aided by those very insights. Yet, mid-heist Simon incurs a nasty head injury that puts him in the hospital with a mild case of amnesia. Lost inside the folds of his brain is the location of their loot, which is a real bummer for all involved.


When Franck and his cronies fail to torture the memories out of Simon, they hire hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) to draw them out less violently. She quickly cottons on to their criminal ways, and cuts a deal that will see her receive profits from the artwork’s resale (once it’s found, of course). If I could offer the criminal underworld one piece of advice, it’d be to never make a deal with someone who can meld your mind to their whims.

The picture never quite gets better than in the opening, pulse-popping heist sequence, with Rick Smith’s score liberally sampling David Bowie’s “Be My Wife” over the top of the old-fashioned thuggery. There are two or three more astounding set pieces – one seemingly inspired by David Cronenberg – that take place exclusively within the characters’ manipulated psyches. As the film progresses, Elizabeth’s sessions increase, and our ability to separate reality from fantasy becomes nearly impossible. This is where Boyle runs rampant, abandoning any semblance of coherence in favour of outlandish, visually striking sequences.

A post-feature discussion attempting to decipher what was real and what was not turned out to be fruitless; almost as fruitless as my attempts to totally rationalise the motivations of our main trio of characters (who are, in fairness, performed wonderfully). Boyle’s too busy trying to distract us with his spinning wheel that he forgets to cast any lingering kind of spell; one that might make us think there was something substantial to Trance, ​perhaps. Still, it’s impossible to look away.

If it was released twenty years ago, between his indie noir Shallow Grave and kinetic trouble-maker Trainspotting, Trance might have been celebrated as a slice of slick fun. But Boyle is now an Oscar Winning Director, supposedly debasing himself with silly genre fare. Steven Soderbergh indulged his trashier tastes with Side Effects earlier in the year. Shouldn’t Danny be allowed to regress to his roots too? There are worse cinematic trends than acclaimed filmmakers producing erotic Alfred Hitchcock pastiches. Trance is no Side Effects, but it’s cut from the same cloth; just in that inimitable Danny Boyle style. And to get something new from this idiosyncratic director is treat enough.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Trance arrives in Australian cinemas April 4, 2013.

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