Gaudy, gimmicky, and grotesquely overblown, Trance is a mediocre disappointment from a filmmaker that has proven to be consistently inconsistent since his debut with Shallow Grave in 1994. When Danny Boyle shines, he is involved with projects both ambitious and unique (28 Days Later…, 127 Hours), if failing to achieve masterpiece status. At his weakest, we get The Beach. In the middle fall lukewarm crowdpleasers like Millions and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.
Simon (James McAvoy, Atonement), an art auctioneer-turned-thief, is captured by his colleague, Franck (Vincent Cassel, Eastern Promises, Black Swan), and suffers amnesia after receiving a blow to the head. Franck hires a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson, Sin City) to recover the memory of where he has hidden the stolen painting. All three have been capable of solid work in other films, but this time around, we remain completely uninvested in each of their characters.
With Trance, Boyle struggles differently than in the past. It is not tremendously bad. It is shapeless, chaotic, complicated, twisty, manipulative, and irritating. It’s denser and more commercial than Inception, and its tonal shifts and tunnels and false reveals go beyond distracting to disorienting. The ability to surprise audiences by abruptly reversing course at random moments does not automatically equate to originality.
While stylish and slightly entertaining, Trance unravels due to weak characterization, a slick narrative, and a thinly written script. It is far from the worst experience you will have at the movies this year, but “middling” is the last word that one wants associated with the director of Trainspotting. Unfortunately, it is is the most appropriate one.