How to follow a gig like the Olympics? If you’re Danny Boyle, a knee-jerk at the accessible, feel-good fare of the opening ceremony, in favour of an expressly alienating approach. A story of a bungled heist; of crime and psychological punishment.
Though his films always have their unsettling undercurrents, Trance is Boyle’s most traumatic picture since Trainspotting. Like that film, conflict of criminals is but a foil for gruelling warfare between a man and his mind – with battlelines over truth and falsehood scored across the amnesic subconscious of art thief James McAvoy.
The jauntiness of the opening – an Ocean’s-style caper, with head crook Vincent Cassel recognisable from his laser-ducking in that series – is the first red herring in what is a harsh, unforgiving film noir. Rosario Dawson makes a more convincing femme fatale than McAvoy an anti-hero – she the hypnotist searching his dashed memory for a stolen painting’s whereabouts; he the alternate bumbler/bad boy.
Like the classics of the genre, the story doesn’t so much progress as ensnare itself. The lacing of narrative shards and agendas is intensified by a trancey ambience, with Rick Smith’s score throbbing through dim, club-like interiors.
It’s not long before the auditorium is drawing comparisons with the fragmentary Inception. But really, remembering that Boyle has lurched away from the public extroversion of London 2012, the visceral quality of Trance is painfully un-‘Hollywood’. It’s far closer to the Blade Runners of this world.
And depending on the punter, Trance’s moral vacuity may either be the film’s central turn-off or greatest achievement, looking as it does for the secrecy and brutality buried beyond conscious thought.