Review by Bob Ignizio
Danny Boyle's TRANCE is the latest puzzle movie that hopes to task viewers with determining how much of what they see is real and how much isn't. It's pretty simple, really. None of it is real, at least in the sense of depicting anything that resembles actual human behavior. In a genre founded on contrivance, TRANCE stands out as a film that feels particularly constructed.
But you know what? That's okay for about the first two thirds of the film. For that duration, we're treated to a reasonably gripping heist film. Simon (James McAvoy) is a gambling addict who works at an art auction house. As the film begins, he explains the rules employees are supposed to follow in the case of a robbery. Such a robbery then takes place, evidently masterminded by Franck (Vincent Cassell), another employee of the auction house. At first it appears that Simon is following the rules, doing his best to get the most expensive item to safety, but with the understanding that if push comes to shove, no work of art is worth more than his life. But then he inexplicably decides to play hero, and winds up with a bit of amnesia for his troubles. Or does he?
We soon learn there was much more to what happened than was initially apparent. At some point before he encountered the gang of robbers, Simon hid the painting. Now that he's out of the hospital, the crooks come calling, looking for answers Simon can't give them. Ah, but perhaps with the help of hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), he can give them the information they need.
That's a perfectly fine set-up for a thriller, and as the film goes on and it becomes clear that Elizabeth is the classic film noir “femme fatale” it gets even better. But then we get to the final stretch when the movie takes one twist too many and suddenly decides it wants to be about something, to boot. At this point things just get too ridiculous to maintain the necessary suspension of disbelief, and the attempt to give the film thematic weight with the revelation that an abusive relationship is a key ingredient to the goings-on not only feels wrong, the way it's handled comes off as trite.
Boyle's visuals are stunning as always, and even when the screenplay by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge goes off the rails, his direction is almost compelling enough to keep you invested. The performances are first rate as well. But everything melts into such a convoluted mess by the end that you're almost angry that the execution was so skillful. Surely a movie this well made must be better, you think, but it's just a mind fuck movie for the sake of being a mind fuck movie. Expertly made perhaps, but ultimately hollow. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.