Alas, Danny Boyle’s Trance (2013) is not his best. While it’s a visually compelling film, its tone is muddled and its plot is a contrived mess of hokey pulp tropes. It’s one of those movies that aims to be a brilliantly clever mindbender, but overreaches and loses its credibility early, failing to sustain its wild conceit.
Simon (James McAvoy) works security for a high-class art auctioneer, his job to secure the most valuable painting in the event of any kind of trouble. So of course there’s trouble: a team of criminals bursts onto the scene. Simon carries out his duty as planned — until he violates the number one rule, “don’t be a hero.” Confronting the heist’s mastermind, Franck (Vincent Cassel), he’s hit on the head and loses part of his memory, while Franck makes off with the painting — only to find the painting’s case is empty. Has Simon stolen it? He can’t remember, but Franck thinks so and is determined to grill it out of him…so much so that he’s willing to try anything, including sending Simon to a brilliant hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to make him remember.
It’s a promising set-up, at least, in a ridiculous, comic book kind of way: action-packed art heist, amnesiac hero, international band of thugs, sexy hypnotist. And Boyle’s unmistakeable style carries it off for about half an hour with flashy visuals, bracing action setpieces, and an engaging air of early mystery. Eventually, though, the cinematic legerdemain runs out of juice. The convoluted script keeps swerving and veering around, trying to awe, but it tries so hard it ultimately just feels absurd. To a certain degree, Boyle’s kinetic style makes it fun to watch anyway. But his tone doesn’t match the material, and he seems unaware of the plot’s increasing silliness. What results is a well acted and diverting film, but an unsatisfying one marred by over-serious execution, an intrusive score, and a ridiculous script.