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Review: Trance – Too much psycho, not enough logical

Posted by on April 12, 2013 – 12:01 am

TranceThe new film Trance is a psychological thriller about fine-art thieves who misplace a $25 million-dollar painting and then enlist the help of a hypnotherapist in order to recover the lost piece of art. Unfortunately the story is heavy on the psycho and light on the logical and quickly evolves into a hot mess of confusion and a convoluted head-trip.

Simon (James McAvoy) is an art dealer who works in the dangerous world of upscale art auctioning. (Who knew that field was so hazardous?)  When his agency auctions off the rare Francisco de Goya piece, Witches in the Air, a group of bandits, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), work their way around the building’s tight security and knock Simon unconscious before getting away with the valuable artwork.

But it turns out that Simon is in on the heist and had removed the canvas before Franck got away with what was just an empty frame inside a portfolio bag. Now the bad guys want their painting, but Simon has amnesia due to the blow he took to the head. No matter how much Franck and his men torture the reluctant conspirator he cannot remember where he hid the painting.

So the art thieves have the ingenious idea to take Simon to a hypnotherapist in an attempt to access his repressed memory of the painting. They wire him for sound so they can remotely listen in on the hypnosis session, and they place a cell phone on him so they can call and wake him if he starts to talk about the criminals to the sexy therapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson).

TranceElizabeth can tell that something strange is going on with Simon and after a quick Internet search she puts two and two together and decides she wants to work with the thieves and get cut in on the deal if she can help to recover the painting. Why risk her life and career? She’s bored.

As Elizabeth delves deeper into Simon’s fragile psyche we realize that not everything is as it first appeared on the surface and the narrative quickly becomes a tangled mess of reality mixed with imagined and implanted memories as the hypnotherapist works her psycho-magic on more than just Simon. After a while the story becomes so confusing and absurd that I was wishing someone would snap me out of it.

Speaking to some of the film’s ridiculousness, at one point Simon and Elizabeth are getting frisky at her apartment when she excuses herself to go into the bathroom. Off screen we hear the distinct sounds of an electric razor before Ms. Dawson gratuitously appears completely nude showing off her freshly shaved “hoo-hah.” Later this is justified in a flashback where Simon explains his fascination with the lack of female pubic hair in early European nude paintings. While I can certainly admire Rosario Dawson’s exhibition, I’m not convinced it had anything to do with art.

TranceMuch of this film, as directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) and written by his long-time collaborator John Hodge, is awkward, befuddling and pretentiously unorthodox. Gimmicks like having McAvoy silently stare into the camera while his narrative voiceover sets up the plot are just clunky attempts gloss over a very weak and unlikely story.

Trance is not completely without merit and I like the concept of a hypnotist working to unravel a crime mystery, but I don’t think the art-theft plot device was necessarily the best of ideas (especially when that world was not particularly explored beyond absent pubes on a painting.) If you are easily hypnotized by flashy film-making, then this might be a movie you’ll enjoy – just don’t expect it to make much sense. Grade: 5/10

Photos © 2013 Fox Searchlight Pictures