Trance (2013)

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Danny Boyle’s filmography really is the cinematic equivalent of The Beatles’ White Album; he never makes the same film twice, and is as skilled at science fiction (Sunshine) and horror (28 Days Later) as he is at human drama (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and comedy (Millions). And, true to form his latest, Trance, is something entirely different and entirely magnificent.

James McAvoy is finally allowed to use his own Scottish accent as Simon, a fine art auctioneer who finds himself in the middle of a high-value heist; knocked unconscious, Simon wakes to find he has lost his memory. Unfortunately for him, the gang, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), believe he is the only man who knows the whereabouts of a hugely valuable missing painting, and bring in hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to unlock the secrets of Simon’s addled brain.

This journey through Simon’s confused mind is mesmerising; his shifting memories cut a swathe across the narrative, changing the course of his story as more are exposed. The contrast between Simon’s subconscious and the everyday are beautifully handled, and bring the talents of  cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and digital colourist Jean-Clement Soret—both long-time Boyle collaborators—to the fore. When Simon is under hypnosis, filming angles are off-kilter and colours are otherworldly, packing a sensory punch in comparison to the  everyday urban greys of the London landscape. And while it may have been filmed in the familiar surroundings of the capital, it—much like Eran Creevy’s recent Welcome to The Punch, also starring McAvoy—turns the city into a bewildering labyrinth of backstreets, basements and anonymous doors behind which all manner of nightmares can unfold.

The performances keep pace with Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s deliciously twisting tale. McAvoy is, as ever, wonderful as Simon, an affable everyman who seems to be paying the ultimate price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; it’s a role he’s played many times before, yet he remains endlessly watchable. Cassel is surprisingly seductive as Franck, and his interactions both with Simon and Elizabeth increasingly tangled and bewitching. And while it may appear that Dawson has been reduced to just a run of the mill, supporting ‘love interest’ role, hers is a powerful, restrained performance that is at the core of this story.

As the boundaries between truth and lies, dreams and dark desires become increasingly blurred, and fantasy and reality begin to overlap, Trance is reminiscent of both Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and, closer to home, Boyle’s own Trainspotting in its exploration of a fractured psyche and the manipulation of identity. Yet it has a deep and twisting DNA all of its own; fully revealed when Simon finally uncovers his deepest buried memory. Bringing everything that’s come before into a sudden, sharp focus, it’s a blistering climax to a stunning film and another Boyle triumph that simply must be seen.

5 stars

UK Release Date: March 27, 2013

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