Film review: Danny Boyle falls from an Olympian height with Trance

2.00

(15)

While acknowledging the surge of national pride one feels at the mere mention of the name Danny Boyle – We Know What He Did Last Summer – it would be remiss to pretend that his new feature, Trance, is not a terrible disappointment.

A psychological London noir about an art theft that goes wrong, it's a whizzy piece of work, boasting all kinds of narrative backflips and cartwheels. It wants to be at least two or three jumps ahead of its audience. But for all the frantic energy on display, it's a film that never really satisfies or convinces.

Its starting point is an audacious heist. Simon (James McAvoy) is an employee at a smart London auction-house. He knows the drill in the event of an attempted robbery – don't play the hero because "no work of art is worth a human life". What we don't initially realise is that Simon's up to his ears in gambling debts and needs serious cash.

So he's offered himself as inside man to master thief Franck (Vincent Cassel), who with his gang means to steal a Goya painting, Witches in the Air, just sold for £27m. (The actual picture resides safely at the Prado in Madrid). But the job goes awry, and though the gang get away Simon takes a crack to the skull and can't remember where he has hidden the painting. Not a bad set-up.

It gets better. In order to extricate the vital information, Franck pays for a Harley Street hypnotherapist, Dr Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), to help Simon recover the memory from his unconscious. And as soon as she realises what's at stake she demands a commensurate reward for her services.

Thus we plunge down the neural pathways into Simon's brain in a move reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's psycho-fantasia Inception, wherein our own grasp of the narrative is gradually prized loose. Are we watching a memory, a projection, a fear, a false consciousness?

Boyle and his trusted cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle light up the screen in a way that's meant to mimic the altered state of a trance – the colour palette goes berserk, hopping from acid yellows and greens to nightclub blues and dreamy violets. As the plot slides towards psychosis and danger, it flags up the red of a car or a bottle of HP sauce before the stuff that usually colours the noir crime drama gets splashed around.

The paradox is that the more the film-makers try to feint and dummy, the less involved you feel with the story. (It's written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge.) Devious screenplays have to tread a fine line between keeping us in the dark and messing with our heads for the sake of it. Trance is a major offender on that score. The late-arriving revelation that casts one character in an entirely new light has the unintended effect of throwing us out of the movie. Who could have suspected him as a nutter?

It also rather squanders the potentially interesting side-issue of big-name art theft in favour of a baffling disquisition on the allure of the shaved pubis, fingering Goya as the painter who changed it all with his Naked Maja. I suspect this bit of art history was included so as to prepare Rosario Dawson for a very conspicuous nude scene.

The last time Boyle filmed a lady in a corridor sequence, by the way, was the Queen in Buckingham Palace. We must be grateful that in trying to meet two deadlines at once the director didn't confuse them, and HRH was allowed to keep her ermine on. Boyle's Olympics triumph deserves its place in the collective memory – I can't envisage this film lingering nearly so long.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering