The 400-Word Review: Trance
By Sean Collier
April 14, 2013

Dr. Xavier does double time.

Danny Boyle’s latest directorial effort, Trance, is a stupid pulp fantasy about art heists and shaved genitals. If that sounds like it might be up your alley...well, I’m not sure whose alley that is. But rest assured: still not worth it.

Simon (James McAvoy) is a dedicated art historian working for a top auction house, with a serious appreciation for the classics. Unfortunately, he’s also a bad poker player, and owes some rough types a great deal of money. He can’t pony up the dough, so he instead conspires with some gangsters, led by the charismatic Franck (Vincent Cassel) to pilfer a particularly pricey Goya. When he deviates from the script, though, Franck gives him a knock on the head; somehow, this causes him to forget where exactly the masterwork went.

What follows is a trip to hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who has serious boundary issues; she promises to extract the AWOL memory. Most of the flick is spent wading through Simon’s fuzzy mind, and all of it assumes that you know absolutely nothing about how the human brain functions. (The number of inane twists the plot takes are impossible to recount, but here’s a good one: Apparently, the memory-clearing effects depicted in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind can be achieved with nothing but a soothing voice and a snap of the fingers!)

While a nonsense plot is one of Trance’s major problems, it’s not the biggest. Boyle told USA Today that this film represents “the first time I put a woman at the heart of a movie.” (And it only took him 20 years.) That’s true — Elizabeth is the central character, rather than Simon. But someone involved in this project is profoundly, unsettlingly sexist, and Dawson’s character — when she is not stark naked — is conniving, manipulative and cowardly. It’s shocking that Boyle’s first female protagonist, in 2013, would be so poorly represented; the blame is probably on story writer Joe Ahearne, but Boyle should’ve known better.

Admittedly, there’s very little in his filmography to suggest that he’s much of a feminist. But he is a skilled director, and he does a good job of make Trance’s gibberish watchable and vaguely compelling; at its best moments, while you are aware that it’s nonsense, you’re still interested in how the nonsense will turn out. Still, after two excellent films, Trance is a serious stumble for Boyle.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at