Danny Boyle is screwing with your mind

There’s a scene early on in Danny Boyle’s Trance that takes place in a junkyard of sorts. There’s a huge digger scooping up shards of glass and mirror, and the light fractures and blinds and wavers at it hits these piles.

You get a lot of that in Trance.

There isn’t much you can say about this movie without giving it away. A painting by Goya, thought to be lost, is up for auction, and the bidding is fierce and high. At the height of its frenzy, men walk in and throw off smoke bombs. But there’s a protocol in place for situations such as these, and Simon (James McEvoy) follows them to the letter. Right up until the point he’s confronted by Frank (Vincent Cassel). The number one rule is to not be hero, because no piece of art is worth losing a life, and Simon breaks this rule, deciding he’ll take Frank on himself. He gets himself knocked unconscious for his troubles, and Frank disappears with the painting.

Only, the painting isn’t where it’s supposed to be.

Determined to find it, Frank and his gang of merry men push Simon into seeing Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. The plan is for her to help Simon unlock the repressed memory of where he stashed the painting.

This is the last point in the film where everything makes sense. The first half hour or so is quite linear and easy to follow, up until Simon begins the hypnotherapy to uncover the painting’s location. What follows is a maze of missed cues, wrong directions, jealousy, possessiveness, anger, lust, and deception.

What could have been a mess of a film isn’t. It’s like Boyle found a way to take the knots of David Lynch’s mind and unravel them just enough, leaving behind the brilliance of a complicated and beautiful plot without the headscratching mess. Fragments of light and scenes are woven together to give us a not quite coherent picture as we journey further into Simon’s mind.

Because this is, after all, a trip through Simon’s memories. McEvoy is charming and insane by turns, whether he’s sweating in fear of Frank and his men or laughing maniacally as one of them struggles through his own deepest fears. He’s all over the place, and Simon’s final turn is as twisted as his memories.

As the heist mastermind, Cassel is slick, smooth, and completely in control…until he’s not. He displays a vulnerability you wouldn’t expect for a hardened criminal, and you find yourself cheering for him even when you think you shouldn’t be.

The biggest surprise for me was Rosario Dawson. I would imagine a hypnotherapist would need to have a voice bordering on sonorous. Certainly well modulated and calm, and Dawson does this quite well. She’s fearless, and never once, not even when the sessions grow out of control, does Elizabeth lose her cool.

By the end, you think you know who the bad guys are. And then it shifts, and you think, oh, yeah, that’s better. That’s who the bad guys are.

And then you find out you were wrong, once again.

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