James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer who’s pulled into the high-stakes heist of a multi-million-dollar painting. But when the job goes awry and he’s knocked unconscious, he loses a chunk of his memory and can’t remember where he’s hidden the stolen goods. Unfortunately for Simon, Franck (Vincent Cassel), his gangster partner-in-crime, is none too pleased with this development and – after unsuccessfully torturing Simon for info – enlists the aid of reluctant hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to pry open Simon’s mind and withdraw the crucial cache location. Pronto. Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned and the race to track down the missing artwork gets increasingly desperate with each snafu.
What unfolds is a frenetic, highly stylized and, yes, weirdly hypnotic story that frequently blurs the line between what’s real and what’s merely the result of an embedded suggestion. It’s a bit like Inception, only hypnosis and a kick-ass thumping soundtrack – not dreams and cool CGI – provide the backdrop for the action. Time folds back on itself a few times, and Boyle and his screenwriters wisely plant somewhat obvious clues early on, so it’s important to pay attention. (I had the story figured out fairly quickly, but still enjoyed the action.) The pace is brisk and energized and, though it’s not the most complicated plot ever on film, the story zig-zags enough to keep audiences on their toes.
While McAvoy, with this distinct departure from the typical aw-shucks good guy he normally plays, is surprisingly – and very effectively – dark and tormented, it’s Dawson and Cassel who give the film its depth and flavor. Cassel, engaging and charming even when playing a really bad guy, colors his performance with assorted shades of good and evil, making Franck incredibly likeable despite some of his decidedly unsavory behavior. Dawson, meanwhile, makes for a strong and multilayered adversary/ally/love interest, and her full-frontal scene is one of the veryvery few I’ve seen that feels genuinely key to the plot.
After more conventional fare like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, Boyle’s return to earlier form is a breath of fresh cinematic air.
The Blu-ray includes multiple making-of featurettes, "Making of Trance: Danny's Film Noir, Hypnotherapy, The Look, The Final Rewrite", a short film called Eugene by Spencer Susser (that doesn't have much to do with anything, where a lonely man gets power from a piece of technology), and deleted scenes. There is also an interesting Danny Boyle Retrospective where the director goes through all of his movies that he has done with Fox Searchlight (I had forgotten about many of them, like 28 Days Later). The problem is, this retrospective starts with the underwhelming caper A Life Less Ordinary and goes from there. Glaringly missing are the films that made Boyle a directing star: Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. I'll bet Fox Searchlight wishes they could brag about those being on their roster!