Danny Boyle's first film since silencing the skeptics at last summer's unforgettable Olympic opening ceremony arrives in the form of low-key London-based noir, Trance. This mind-bending, psychological-thriller is a far cry from sky-diving monarchs and jitterbugging nurses, but Boyle hasn't completly reined in his penchant for spectacle. James McAvoy stars as junior art auctioneer, Simon, whose botched attempt to double-cross a gang of violent criminals during the heist of a Goya painting leaves him with a nasty blow on the head. When Simon awakes, he has no memory of the robbery, and the gang's pragmatic leader (Vincent Cassel) turns to a Harley Street hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) in order to recover the lost painting. However, when the hypnosis begins, boundaries between desire, reality and hypnotic suggestion begin to blur and the stakes rise faster than any of them could have anticipated.
Boyle directs with his usual flair and confidence, and Trance moves at an implacable pace. Set in an almost hyper-real London that oozes sexiness and style, it can at times feel like being stuck in a lava lamp, but the glamour of this lavishly chic urban environment adds to the sense of threat as Simon wades further out of his depth. Our central trio deliver solid performances, with Cassel as imposing as ever as the volatile Frank, but the narrative twists around so frantically that we barely have time to get to know any of our characters. Boyle is obviously having tremendous fun in toying with his audience, and the freewheeling unfolding of the plot is initially exhilarating, but when the story moves from being two steps ahead, to four or five, the final act of the movie feels like we are playing catch-up. There are multiple comparisons to be made with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but where the pay-off in Gondry's masterpiece was emotionally satisfying, the revelations in Trance's dénouement ultimately feel rushed and hollow. At its best, the film reminds us of the jet-black humour and sexually strained relationships in Boyle's brilliantly twisted debut, Shallow Grave, but it also exudes the same over-excitement and indulgence of the director's weakest effort, The Beach. The film may benefit from multiple viewings, but there are the contrivances in the plot that will require an Olympic-sized leap of faith.
Despite some stunning visuals and a deliciously head-scrambling set-up, Boyle's stylish neo-noir gets carried away in its attempts to bamboozle its audience and it is ultimately hoisted by its own petard.