Simon: No piece of art is worth a human life.
If I were trying to find a director to successfully helm a movie where the central action revolves around people being lulled into a hypnotic state in a calm environment, Danny Boyle would be at both the top and bottom of my list for very different reasons. On the one hand, Boyle is ideal; his ADHD-inspired style of filmmaking could give the film energy and brisk pace even when it was trying to be still. On the other hand, that exact same style could end up being blatant overcompensating for the story’s lack of visual propulsion. Unfortunately, Boyle’s latest, TRANCE, is an exercise in the latter, a film with many a problem that is shot and cut solely to distract us from these very problems. If you’re highly susceptible to suggestion, it may work for you. Cut through the smoke and mirrors though and you’ll see that Boyle is just as lost as you are.
TRANCE is troubled from the very beginning. Simon, a lovely and charming art dealer played by the always lovely and charming, James McAvoy, gives us the rundown on how the high stakes world of art thievery has become increasingly more complex over the years. Let alone that this is, at least to me, in and of itself, completely uninteresting, but it is also hardly the point. We know this because Simon, thanks to Boyle’s complete lack of subtlety, tells us that there is something much bigger going on here by looking directly into the camera with a knowing look, not once but something like four or five times in the span of five or ten minutes. He might as well give the audience an exaggerated wink. A valuable painting is inevitably stolen but subsequently also goes missing, thanks to Simon’s questionable involvement. There is one small problem though; Simon has no idea what he did with the painting because he took a nasty blow to the head while the robbery was going down. Enter Rosario Dawson as the hypnotist who will get inside Simon’s head, only maybe, she’s already been there. Oh wait, yes, Dawson just made a face at the camera that affirms to us that she most certainly has.
So aside from the rather tedious world of hypnotherapy and black market art dealing dressed up to look like the whole thing is on speed, TRANCE also has all of its leftover steam taken out of it by giving away its hand way too early. To be fair, Boyle doesn’t tell us what is going on until the end, but he tells us that something is definitely going on and that nothing is what it seems from the very start. And so, as an audience, we trust no one and all we can do is wait for the big reveal because we know that one is coming. Without the element of surprise, we are left with nothing but a lot of disconnected drama and uncharacteristic misogyny to keep us engaged. Hence the visual schizophrenia and pulsing soundtrack; something has to fool us into thinking this is actually interesting. For future reference, Boyle might want to make sure his audience is actually in a trance before he tries to trick them into thinking they’re watching an actual work of art.