With the likes of Danny Boyle, it's difficult not to have preconceptions. I was expecting something special, and the cast alone lead me believe this was going to be one to remember. James McAvoy's protagonist is instantly likeable, and the opening scene tells you immediately to expect action: a contrived practice scene outlining the procedures in case of attempted robbery during the high-price auction of a work of art – and not just any work of art. McAvoy's dealer takes us through some of the greatest ‘lost' masterpieces of the art world, and his passion for his work is undeniable. This makes the first of the film's twists a genuine surprise. Unfortunately, Boyle's keenness to keep us on our toes leads rapidly from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The film's characters are cautiously crafted with enticing performances by Rosario Dawson, as a wary and beguiling hypnotherapist, and Vincent Cassel reprising his often-worn role of misunderstood anti-villain – you know, the one you dislike so intently until you realise you've begun to secretly root for him. Even the minor characters have enough personality that they leave an impression, albeit not one strong enough to allow you to remember their names. Unfortunately, that's about all I can say of the plot without risking the exposure of spoilers.
The problem I had with this film is that it tries too hard to be something it's just not cut out to be. The actors do such a fantastic job of making the parts believable and genuine that certain behaviours seem so out of character as to turn the whole story into a farce. There are hints of this at the beginning – relationships switching from torturer-and-prisoner to comrades-in-arms without a hint of resentment; illogical, irrational acts with no real explanations that we're expected to accept without justification for the sake of the plotline. These are just about swallow-able, if you'll excuse the contrived vocabulary (trust me, it's good practice for watching this film), but later acts of unexpected, arbitrary violence are so incongruous as to be utterly unbelievable.
Now some may argue that this is in fact the point, – it's clear that one of the aims of this film is to leave you entirely unsure of what is real and what is not – post-hypnotic suggestion and the power thereof to manipulate the subconscious is a major theme of Trance, and we are certainly left questioning exactly which reality is authentic. However, when combined with the disparate behaviour of the characters, this leaves one feeling that the whole thing could be one giant, illogical dream with so many random twists and turns that eventually, you stop caring. I've always felt that's death for a film – when you reach the point at which you no longer care what happens to characters you've lived with for an hour and a half, the film has failed.
Don't get me wrong, it was enjoyable, and did indeed leave me thinking about it for some time after I left the theatre. That alone makes it a worthwhile subject of my time, and watching McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel display their art on the big screen is always a pleasure. Nevertheless, in spite of all that, I couldn't help feeling somehow cheated.
Ignore the previous review. This film is fantastic on all levels!