Written by Films


A new Danny Boyle film is always something to be welcomed, and given that his last two ventures were the Olympics opening ceremony, and Frankenstein at the National Theatre, it’s been a while (although I did see Frankenstein at the cinema).
Trance is a chance for Boyle to really let go of the reigns. In interviews he’s said that it was a useful regulator compared with the wholesome celebratory opening ceremony he was doing at the same time.
I say “interviews”, because as well as seeing the film yesterday, I had a fairly full evening of Boyle. The screening was followed by a live on stage Q&A with Boyle which ran a fairly decent fifty minutes. And then I got home and watched a further thirty minute interview with Mark Kermode on The Culture Show. And this comes after last week’s interview with Kermode and Simon Mayo on their Five Live film programme.
So that’s a lot of Danny Boyle. And that’s before I get started on the Little White Lies and Sight & Sound features in print!
Of course, I don’t want to spoil the plot too much, so all I need say is that James McAvoy is a junior auctioneer who gets involved in the theft of a valuable Goya painting, working with some gangsters led by Vincent Cassel. But he gets beaten about his head and forgets where he’s put the painting, so he visits Rosario Dawson’s hypnotherapist, who he hopes will help him find the painting.
The film then works through a series of trances, and the story begins to unfold in a non-linear manner.
Boyle’s famous for opening his films with dynamism. Think of Renton running down Princes Street in Trainspotting, the kids of slums in Slumdog Millionaire, or Aaron Ralston rushing through the desert at the start of 127 Hours.
Here we get a representation of how a painting would have been stolen in the past, and then an elaborate robbery in the present day. The music is pounding – music being another important Boyle trope.
Boyle told us in the Q&A that he was almost conditioning his audience – putting them into a “trance” as he opened the film that way.
This is a highly stylised film. Two of three main film locations – the gangster’s and the hypnotherapist’s apartments are unbelievably stylish. But that’s very purposeful. And frankly, you don’t really stop to think about it too much. The film’s plot is being driven firmly forwards at all times.
Boyle said that he did a lot of research into hypnotism, and said that the facts within the film are true – that around 5-10% of the population are most susceptible to it. I must admit that I’m always a little skeptical about how it truly works – and whether it really does. I’ve seen stage hypnotists, and I always feel that those who take part are a fairly self-selecting type. That said, some are clearly more suggestive than others. Look at the success of cults in getting people indoctrinated.
The performances are great, with McAvoy being convincingly drawn into this world, and Dawson being an atypical character in films of this type. In other hands, the film would have gone a different way, but in the Q&A Boyle said that he didn’t want a Hitchcock-esque icy blonde as his hypnotherapist. And although he didn’t say it, I suspect he didn’t want a Sharon Stone/Basic Instinct blonde either.
We know that Cassel can be a gangster – and Boyle knows that too – but he has another side here as well. The supporting cast all great too. With a colourful crew of gangsters as well as smaller roles all believable.
Is the plot believable? No. Not really. It’s a fable of sorts. And I suppose that’s why, in the end, it’s not right up there with the very best of Boyle. But it’s still damned good.