Trance is the intimate, quiet, and reality-driven companion film to 2010's Inception. An art auctioneer in London gets pulled into organized crime when he helps steal Goya's Witches in the Air. He loses all memory of the theft after being knocked unconscious by the crime boss. Now, the boss wants the painting and the only way to get back the memory is hypnotherapy. Danny Boyle knows how to make a crime thriller. This isn't a surprise at this point. What is always a pleasant surprise is seeing how much style and energy he can bring to even the wildest of premises. There is not a moment in Trance that is not stunningly beautiful. Everything that happens onscreen happens for a very good reason and there is not one ounce of extra fat in the final cut.
The only flaw is the electronic score by Rick Smith. While it works well later in the film during the more fanciful hypnosis scenes, it stands out way too much at the start. A quiet scene in an art auction filled with 100-plus year old paintings, business suits, and proper etiquette is overwhelmed by pulsing synth beats. The film needed a more naturalistic approach--not necessarily acoustic, but more orchestral--to balance the location, characters, and subject matter. The underground crime and aggressive hypnosis can handle the trance/electronica vibe but the more proper exposition scenes.
Other than the score, Trance is solid. The acting is remarkable, especially Rosario Dawson as hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb. Everything about her character--including her American accent in an otherwise British film--is perfectly aligned with the screenplay and all the twists and turns to come.
Elizabeth is the type of strong female character we need more of onscreen. She has been victimized but she is no victim and no one will stop her from living her life how she chooses. One key scene later on, a montage of hypnotherapy patients, sees her take an entirely different approach to her calm and brutally efficient demeanor in her office. A domestic violence victim wants to leave her abuser. Dr. Lamb preaches to the rafters the hypnotic suggestions this woman needs to begin picking up the pieces and live her life again. Elizabeth's experience with domestic abuse is handled delicately and actually enhances the overall narrative of high crime and psychology.
Trance swings for the outfields in every scene and the layering of plot twists and character reveals will probably force you outside of the film at some point. It's a whole lot of exposition that is weighted to favor no story detail over any other. A monologue delivered in the first act has the same pace as a monologue in the final 10 minutes. Trance does not baby you and explain everything as it happens. It expects you to put the pieces together yourself even when the characters shift their focus to the final piece of the puzzle. These are not plot holes because everything is explained. You just have to tie it all up yourself.
Trance is a bizarre film because of its approach to layering narrative through hypnotherapy sessions and the creation of false memories. It won't appeal to everyone and I fully understand that. I bought into it hook, line, and sinker and almost started to applaud when the film threw me out of the narrative and caught me just a few moments later with a new exciting lure. Danny Boyle is choosing not to rest on his previous success. He is pursuing adventurous new projects and that suits his style well.
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