In Danny Boyle’s Trance, an art auctioneer aids in the theft of a multimillion-dollar Rembrandt. He hides it, but during the getaway, he hits his head and forgets where he put it. His partners in crime try to beat the information out of him, and when that doesn’t work, they turn to... therapy? Hypnotherapy, to be exact. Not since Tony Soprano have miscreants been so open to touchy-feely methods of solving a problem.
It’s a borderline unbelievable plot point in this script by Joe Ahearne (Doctor Who) and past Boyle collaborator John Hodge (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave). But the thieves, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), at least eventually get impatient with the psychological approach. Less successful is Boyle’s choice for the lead. At the beginning of the film, Simon, the auction-house employee, says in a voiceover that it takes “muscle and nerve” to steal a painting. Yet Simon is played by baby-faced James McAvoy, who looks like he barely has the muscle and nerve to climb a ladder.
McAvoy also provokes a “Really?” reaction regarding attracting the attention of Rosario Dawson, but that comes later. Franck gives Simon a list of hypnotherapists to choose from, and he picks Elizabeth (Dawson) because he “likes the name.” (Right.) Wearing a wire, he tells her he needs help finding his keys, confident that he’ll have enough brain power during the session to focus on the painting instead. (Nope. But she does locate the keys.) Elizabeth sees the news about the stolen art and is savvy enough to make the connection to Simon, playing a prerecorded hypnosis induction while she asks him via note cards if he’s in trouble. Instead of washing her hands of the crime, she says she can help.
Similar to Steven Soderberg’s recent Side Effects, Trance is not nearly as straightforward as it seems, instead providing one twist after another until you’re not terribly certain you get what’s going on. But until it reaches its melodramatic maelstrom of a finale—and if you’ve suspended disbelief and accepted the issues raised above—Trance is an entertaining roller-coaster that touches on all the vices you expect in a thriller. (Including a full-frontal shot of Dawson, truly one of the film’s “whoa” moments.) It’s violent, it’s sensual, it offers skeletons in more than one closet. If McAvoy is the cast’s weakest link, Dawson is its strongest, with Elizabeth knowing how to soothingly extract information as a professional as well as get what she wants as a woman.
Boyle makes it a stylish sensory experience as well, with a pulsating score that actually succeeds in adding energy to action scenes (including a heartbeat-like one while two characters get intimate) and filling the film with strong colors, such as the orange that dominates Elizabeth’s apartment or a red knot of highways shot from above. The story itself, with its theme of memory versus planted thoughts, will stick with you as you try to untangle the turns. Its resolution may not be 100 percent buyable, and the final scene is ripped straight from Inception. But despite its flaws, you will not be getting sleepy.