Last year I saw this movie called The Double Hour (La Doppia Ora), a little Italian thriller that you most likely haven't seen. Despite its decent critical reception (83% on RottenTomatoes), it's an awful film. It's an awful - and I consider this impending spoiler a favor - because the first half is a dream. At least the first half, and in the worst way possible. All of the emotional connections you've built up... gone, instantly. It stunned me a little bit, much like hearing a racial slur in polite company might stun me. It's the 21st century. Aren't we past such things?
I bring this up because Trance, despite strong performances and Boyle's usual stylish flair, suffers similarly. The film starts simply enough, with a great opening monologue by James McAvoy on how security for art auctions has improved, and then, of course, an art heist. The heist goes a little south, James gets knocked in the head, forgets his memory, and a hypnotherapist is called in to help him retrieve it.
Everything up until this point --and even a little beyond it - makes for a fine, engrossing film. But there's a point where things turn murky, where it becomes confusing what is reality and what is not. That, in itself, is not so bad. There are many very fine psychological thrillers which happily toy with reality the way a cat might toy with yarn.
But when you strip away all the psychosis, the confusion, the fractured strands and shards of reality, there needs to be a core, a clear and understandable core, to explain where it all comes from. Trance lacks such a core and it shows:
It shows in the film's inept attempts to shift the audience's sympathy for the various characters, in some poor editing decisions (a cut between two water scenes near the end is particularly confusing), in an almost exploitative nudity scene that should have worked but was not in the right place, and in a final denouement that feels unearned. There were not enough clues; it was not built up properly.
In the end it really comes down to violence and sex, probably the two greatest tools in a story-teller's kit. Danny Boyle failed to apply them properly. They were not in the right place, used by the right characters, or with the right amount of force. Lacking that you had the sound and the fury but without much sense, a brave and earnest soldier making a bayonet charge at a scarecrow.
Final Say: Trance is not aggressively bad. In fact, I wouldn't call it even call it bad. I can see what they were trying to do, and I laud them their ambition and their attempted complexity. But there are some things that just don't go together. Superman and Kryptonite will never be friends. Getting robbed is never fun. And audiences will always need at least one character to root for. It doesn't have to be a good guy or gal, but every story will always be about people and when you screw that up, your story will only be worth, well, in this case, a 60/100 rating.
How to Watch It: I don't really know on this one. With a fine appreciation for Danny Boyle's style, I should think. And probably after watching his other movies, nearly all of which are superior.
Trivia: You can't actually hypnotize people into doing things they would not normally do. Hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestibility, not mind control.