Trance review

Simon (McAvoy) works for an art auction house. But he has massive gambling debts. So he becomes the inside man for a gang of art theives, headed by Franck (Cassel). The well-planned heist kind of goes wrong, Simon suffers a near-fatal head injury and can't remember where he's squirreled away the valuable Goya painting, Witches in the Air, that they stole. To try to recover the memory, Franck takes Simon to beautiful hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson). And thus the game is afoot.

Director Boyle has crafted what at first looks like a standard, glossy heist flick. But Trance soon turns into a twisty, labyrinthine psychological thriller. It's often reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's Inception, or Memento. Working from a script co-written by previous collaborator Hodge (Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and Trance has echos of both), Boyle cleverly crafts a world where truth and lies are impossible to separate; a world of violence, deceipt and lust. A stylish world that is neon-lit with a pumping electronic score.

Once again, McAvoy is on top form here. Since his wonderful turn as Professor Xavier in 2011's X-Men: First Class, McAvoy really has become a talent to watch. He was terrific in the recent so-so crime drama Welcome to the Punch, and is outstanding in the upcoming Filth. And he's ably assisted in Trance by the ever-reliable Cassel. But the outstanding player here is Dawson, who I think has never been better on screen. Here she has to calmly deal with two big personalites – one a vicious killer, the other a man who is lost inside himself – while playing mind games with both.

Trance is sharp, slick, stylish and, sometimes, a little too complicated for its own good. Like much of Boyle's outstanding catelogue of work, it's wonderful but flawed. The narrative tricks don't always work, and it's probably a film you need to see twice to keep up with all the twists and turns and backtracks. Despite this, Trance is great fun and worth seeing for the performances of the three leads alone. It's certainly not Boyle's best film, but it's a welcome addition to his stellar portfolio.

Trance at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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