by Padraic Coffey
“Amnesia is bollocks”, insists a London gangster as he peels back James McAvoy’s fingernails in an effort to elicit seemingly irretrievable information. Those who hold similar attitudes towards hypnosis would be advised to approach Danny Boyle’s Trance with due caution. The latest from Boyle – fast approaching ‘National Treasure’ status following his critically-lauded choreography of the 2012 Olympics’ opening ceremony – is a complex thriller heavily-indebted to the oeuvre of Christopher Nolan, in particular Inception. Unlike the English-born Nolan, whose entire output has been set Stateside since 2000 (with the exception of 2006’s The Prestige), Trance has a distinctly British sensibility, right down to the discordant piano which accompanies McAvoy’s fourth-wall-shattering opening narration.
The reliable Scot plays Simon, a luckless auctioneer and art aficionado who foils the attempted robbery of a priceless Francisco Goya painting by a gang of thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel). Simon’s would-be heroic status is short-lived, however, when Franck abducts him in an attempt to ascertain the portrait’s whereabouts. Finding conventional rough-house tactics ineffective, Franck enlists physiatrist and hypnosis-expert Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to coax an entranced Simon into divulging his secrets. Little does Franck realise the knock-on effects this decision will have for all three of the group.
Shuffling chronology in a confident and lightning-paced manner, Trance reunites Boyle with screenwriter John Hodge for the first time in over a decade, the two having worked together on career-highlights Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. If Simon’s somewhat restrained reaction to the bind in which he finds himself stretches credulity, McAvoy remains a compelling screen presence, toying with audience sympathies as revelations pile up towards the film’s conclusion. Cassel is in typically volatile form as the pragmatic criminal, while Dawson is as luminous as the artwork to which McAvoy devotes his scholarly asides.
Certainly, Trance may suffer accusations of derivativeness and gimmickry; when its characters’ surroundings are continually exposed as fabricated or dreamlike, Nolan’s Inception is strongly evoked. Other touchstone’s include Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko and Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Yet, while it would be easy to lambaste the film for its occasionally familiar flourishes, that such a cerebral approach is commonly recognisable in the modern cinematic thriller is something for which to be grateful. And, like all mindbenders, Trance is likely to be dissected for days upon viewing.