Movie Review: “Trance” – An Artfully Hypnotic Mystery

Written by Leo Panasyuk June 10, 2013

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Danny Boyle has always been one of my favourite directors simply for one reason – his artistic vision. Whether he’s presenting a harrowingly depressing post-apocalyptic London or telling the terrifying yet captivating story about man vs nature, or giving a surreal insight into the lives of a group of heroin-shooting kids in Edinburgh, Boyle always seems to find a way to make the ordinary extraordinary. His latest film, “Trance,” is no different. With such star power as James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson, you’d think the stars would be in control of this film but, no – Boyle is and he never lets you forget it.

“No Work of Art is Worth a Human Life”

“Trance” stars James McAvoy as Simon, an art auctioneer who helps master thief Franck (Vincent Cassel) steal a valuable painting during an auction. Unfortunately, Simon suffers amnesia after a blow to the head and cannot for the life of him remember where he stashed the painting. To help Simon restore his memory, Franck takes him to a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) in the hopes that she can help him remember where the painting is. While this does sound like a bit of a boring premise on the surface, the way in which it’s executed is far from that.

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It’s Almost Like if “Snatch” Were About a Painting

Let me get this out of the way first: “Trance” is an amazing film albeit a bit confusing at times. Most of the film revolves around Simon trying to piece together the events of the heist, where his fractured memories provide interesting set pieces for some of the film’s best scenes. For example, there is a scene in which Simon “walks” through his own memories in his head and he is accompanied by Elizabeth and Franck, who seamlessly drift in and out of the scene, evoking Simon’s constant feeling of uncertainty which plagues him for most of the film. McAvoy is brilliant in this film as he is a man caught between two forces- Elizabeth, who prefers a more subtle and civilized approach to retrieving Simon’s memories through hypnotherapy and Franck, who favors brute force and torture as a means of extracting information. It’s the chemistry between these three characters that drives the plot forward through its various twists and turns.

A Work of Art About a Work of Art

I personally enjoyed the characters of Elizabeth and Franck; and through brilliant writing and direction, their characters reveal themselves to be more than what they appear. What I liked most was the fact that they’re not exactly as black-and-white as you’d come to expect. Speaking of colours, the film’s colour palette is more than what you’d expect. The scenes in Simon’s head are brightly lit and feature exuberant colours while scenes in reality are more darkly lit and gritty-looking, creating an obvious, yet, artistic contrast. The film is, however, diluted in its second act as it seems to just float without really going anywhere; however the film more than makes up for this with a strong opening act and a mind-bending third act with a twist many likely won’t see coming.

Fractured memories and thoughts are a prevalent element in this film.

Fractured memories and thoughts are a prevalent element in this film.

Overall

Danny Boyle has done it yet again. He has taken what appears to be a simple concept and story and forged something extraordinary out of it. As underrated as it might be, in time, “Trance” will surely become synonymous with other philosophic mind-benders of its league such as “The Matrix” and “Inception.” While the film can certainly be confusing at times – especially if you’re not paying attention – it never really breaks its hypnotic hold on you, and eventually, everything leads to a clear and satisfying denouement in which everything that once made no sense becomes clear.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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