After parachuting the Queen out of a helicopter with James Bond during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony Danny Boyle had a tough act to follow with his next film if he wanted to top that with something wholly unexpected. Unfortunately the film he chose to follow up that career highpoint, Trance, is a successful stylish effort-everything seems to be shrouded in tonal blues, designer greys and classy taupe- but often this impeccable stylisation outweighs the content. Often the film trips itself up by trying too hard to deliver the unexpected that the viewer feels so uninvolved by all the second guessing that the credibility needed to convince or engender any emotional response fails to materialise.
It is also a film which seems to inhabit the same universe and genre as notables such as Inception, Sourcecode and Soderbergh’s last film his apparent swansong Side Effects whilst also deploying the Bret Easton Ellis method of employing an unreliable narrator, or in Trance’s case several unreliable narrators as you are never quite aware of who is delivering a viewpoint at any given time. It suffers the same fate of the Soderbergh film by being a late entrant into the field and lacking the charisma a DiCaprio, Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy or Marion Cotillard brought to the former two films mentioned. Trance’s leading man James McAvoy is capable and wears his Armani cashmere and Joseph fine knits with aplomb but is not quite strong or convincing enough in the role for you to either empathise or sympathise with his character, Simon.
The convoluted plot centres on an art auctioneer, Simon, with a gambling problem which has accrued huge debts and the only way out is to borrow the money from an underworld type Franck-Vincent Cassel- who in return utilises Simon’s position and services in a heist involving the theft of a Goya painting valued at £27 million. Trying to outsmart his accomplices Simon has an insurance policy of his own and manages to conceal the painting before Franck gets his hands on it only to end up in a stand off which results in him being knocked unconscious and suffering from amnesia. The obvious thing-in movies anyway- is to consult a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), apparently chosen at random to try and endeavour the whereabouts of the missing masterpiece.
What follows is a stalk through labyrinthine like corridors of various subconscious minds which have so many twists and turns it is often difficult to decipher who is relating what, though this turns out to be an important plot device. Are Elizabeth and Franck on the make trying to dupe the others or are Simon and Elizabeth in cahoots or is any of the aforementioned a lone operative trying to outsmart the others? The issue of trust is constantly raised throughout and the viewer also learns not to trust what is unfolding on the screen at any given time.
An intelligent film which perhaps is a little too smug of its own accomplishments- alongside the immaculate stylisation it also has a superb soundtrack by Rick Smith of Underworld which drives the narrative almost as much as the dialogue and on many occasions threatens to drown it out- but manages to feel compact and never outstays its welcome. Like Soderbergh’s Side Effects despite all the fancy mind trickery and second guessing it eventually feels the need to explain its own plot in the most pedestrian and straightforward manner by having a character relate it to us in a monologue. This, in effect, feels laboured and despite its cleverness leaves holes in the plot.
Essentially Boyle’s attempt at creating his very own Hitchcockian Vertigo or North by Northwest, it has the style, panache and soundtrack to bolster its standing, it however lacks the charm of these classics and thus remains cold, distant and slightly aloof although still highly watchable.