‘Trance’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:48 am,

trance movie review Trance Review

Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the filmmaker, you’re fine waiting until this one is available to rent for home viewing.

Trance stars James McAvoy as Simon, an art auctioneer who conspires with a group of thieves to steal the Goya painting “Witches in the Air” when it’s put up for sale to the public. However, things don’t go smoothly and the lead robber, Franck (Vincent Cassel), ends up decking Simon, leaving him bloodied and unconscious on the ground – unable to tell his accomplices where he secretly stashed the stolen piece of art, much less why he double-crossed them in the first place.

After their injured collaborator is released from hospital care, Franck and his gang attempt to extract the information using physical torture, but Simon’s fragmented memory prevents him from telling the truth. So they come up with a different solution, which involves hiring a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to coax the details from Simon through hypnotic suggestion.

trance rosario dawson review Trance Review

Rosario Dawson in ‘Trance’

Based loosely on co-screenwriter Joe Ahearne’s 2001 TV movie of the same name, Trance is an overly-preposterous, neo-Noir crime thriller that steadily unravels its central mystery throughout the first two acts, before collapsing under the weight of the third act revelations and half-cooked attempts to bring deeper significance to the proceedings. The film is often exhilarating and heart-pounding to behold thanks to direction from Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire), but his technical wizardry can, at times, distract from the storytelling rather than enhance it.

Ahearne co-penned the Trance script with John Hodge, who previously collaborated with Boyle back in the 1990s on films like Trainspotting and The Beach. Working together, the trio keeps the bare-bones narrative moving straight-ahead and to the point, while also doing a decent job of establishing the laws that govern the film’s universe. However, like many a pulpy B-movie that has come before, it ultimately resorts to piling on ludicrous surprises that fail to give the story a deeper artistic purpose – and result in a contrived and silly ending.

vincent cassel trance review Trance Review

Vincent Cassel in ‘Trance’

Similarly, Boyle and his screenwriters skimp on bringing real humanity to the film’s characters; as a result, the surprises in the final act don’t have a meaningful emotional impact. McAvoy and Dawson are generally solid performers, but here they seem unable to make their characters feel like much more than empty coat racks for the writers to assign any hidden motivation or personality they please. The exception to that is Cassel, who brings vulnerability and likability to Franck, much like he did with his unscrupulous character in Black Swan.

Boyle’s direction partially redeems these screenwriting flaws, as he brings his usual (but still impressive) bag of tricks to the table, which includes flashy editing, eclectic photography choices and powerful sound effects, in addition to the pulsating score composed by Rick Smith (whose most recent collaboration with Boyle was on the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony). The filmmaking style usually compliments the story, in terms of keeping things moving and calling back to its origin in Noir (see: the motifs of multiple reflections, garish neon lights, etc.).

trance james mcavoy Trance Review

James McAvoy in ‘Trance’

However, while certain stylistic decisions have a concrete thematic purpose (like the lens flare during scenes that take place in Simon’s mind), others feel more like an attempt to compensate for the thin narrative. Similarly, although the film toys with ideas about the psychology of artistic interpretation and possession – while attempting to re-appropriate Film Noir elements like the femme fatale archetype and male sexual objectification of women – it never fully commits to creating an interesting subtext, even once everything draws to a dramatic, but goofy, close in the last half-hour.

In the end, Trance amounts to a whole lot of wind and fury, but little more – and while it can be engaging as a purely sensory experience, there’s nothing on display here that other (and superior) Boyle films don’t offer. My recommendation: unless you’re a die-hard fan of the filmmaker, you’re fine waiting until this one is available to rent for home viewing.

Here is the trailer for Trance, in case you’re still debating whether or not to see it in theaters:


Trance is now playing in limited theatrical release. It is 101 minutes long and Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

Follow Sandy Schaefer on Twitter @feynmanguy
TAGS: Trance
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  1. I really liked it. Saw this and Oblivion yesterday and this went some way to wash out the horrible taste oblivion left in my mouth.

    • Wow, you hated oblivion?

      • Yeah, I’d say Oblivion would be much better than this. I pretty much called it when the trailer dropped on SR some time back and most other comments seemed to be along the lines of “this movie is gonna rock, film of the year for sure”.

      • Oblivion is overlong with a shallow script, thinly drawn characters, a nonsensical plot, poor performances and underwhelming action. Possibly the worst summer blockbuster season movie I’ve ever seen. And this is coming from somebody who enjoyed G.I Joe (so my bar is set very low).

        What it has got going for it is great overall design and an excellent soundtrack. Cruise and co are doing their best with the dreck they’re working with but ultimately the film is SO derivative of Moon, The Matrix, 2001 and INDEPENDANCE DAY it’s bereft of any voice of it’s own.

        What a let-down.

        Trance on the other hand is a neat little thriller that feels like it could fall to pieces at any second but retains coherency throughout. Despite the contrivances of the ending I’d say the ride alone earns it 3.5 stars at least.

  2. This film has been getting some pretty fantastic reviews so this one was surprising. I’m not sure I’ll see it in the cinema, but will look out for it on dvd etc…

  3. Often enough critics do not agree; in fact, they are in such disagreement sometimes that one wonders if they actually saw the same movie. But this prospect is a healthy one, if for no other reason than a critique is not only a reflection of the reviewer’s taste but moreover a autobiographical perception. (e.g., a black woman’s review of a film over that of a white man’s.)

    I welcome Screen Rant’s take, even when I don’t agree, because inevitably it brings to light some aspects I will agree on…which may determine if I go for it, or wait for it.

    TRANCE has an unfortunate trailer, and maybe speaks to what Boyle has wrought creatively defies a 2-minute summary. Many movies are like that. (re: MEMENTO)

    All of which leaves me scratching my bald head raw over why this movie was given 2 1/2 stars when it’s recommended that we refrain ourselves from going to the theater to see it. A painterly movie with a thin, bare-bones narrative and “goofy” ending is being generously served with a least 1/2 a star.

    It would appear that sometimes these critics disagree…with themselves.

    • I wouldn’t say Sandy’s disagreeing with a self-opinion there, just saying that as a movie experience, it’s not something worth paying money to see but you should catch it when it’s available and you don’t have to spend money towards viewing it.

      As for myself, the only Danny Boyle movies I’ve enjoyed were 28 Days Later and Sunshine but the latter had such a ridiculous third act. In my view, Boyle’s best work was the Olympics opening ceremony last year.

      No doubt that just like The Academy, a lot of reviewers may be buying into the Boyle hype purely to try and stand out above others as “bastions of exquisite taste” like they do with all directors who tend to have a great eye for visual detail but generally at the expense of a decent and coherent plot.

    • In all honesty, I settled on the 2.5 star rating largely because of Boyle’s direction, which really is quite impressive from a technical perspective. Take that away, though, and this movie drops to 2 stars (for me, of course).

  4. I’d never even heard of this movie before, so it will probably be 42 for me this weekend.

  5. If there is one thing that can ruin any film for me it is a “contrived and silly ending”.
    Such a characterization from you, Sandy, I will take to the bank and save the money.

    I’ll probably catch this down the road at some point, I do like James McAvoy
    and I am waiting for his career to kick into a higher gear but this does not
    look like it will be that vehicle and I wonder about “Filth” he has on deck.

    • I like McAvoy too and feel he’s, in some ways, under-rated. One of his best (and lesser-known) performances was on the Shakespeare Retold mini-series version of Macbeth, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like he had a lot to work with here.

      • McAvoy is under-rated and I’m rooting for the guy.
        Thanks for the Shakespeare Retold heads-up.
        That will be worth tracking down to see.

  6. I went to see this last night because I wanted to see what Boyle had to offer and I must say I was disappointed. It felt dull at times and although McAvoy was great everyone else was just eh. It’s an okay movie but I expected something better from Boyle & Co. Then to top it all off the ending just ruined the movie even more(from a 3.5 stars to 2). This is one movie I should have just waited until DVD.

  7. WOW!I have been wondering for a while now if this site was ever worth comeing to,I mean i have always been aware that this site only ever delt with mainstream American movies, and was never exactly geared towards anyone who was truely interested in film. But giveing this movie two and a half stars takes the biscuit.I know its not his best work, and i would exspect your review to reflect that,but giveing this film two and a half.Come on guys you need to lift your game.

    • What?

      You expected the review to reflect “not his best work” and then you baulk when they give it two and a half? You’re not making sense friend. Calm down, it’s an opinion!!

      • I can understand your confusion.But given that this site gave batteship three stars,the above statement makes more sense.

  8. Good review, spot on I’d say. I saw Trande last weekend and thought the whole thing was pretty rubbish to be honest; really quite disappointing. If you need some McAvoy in your life, seek out Welcome to the Punch instead. Much better than this twaddle.

  9. how can this be a 2.5??! I just saw the movie, it’s a terrific film!! though it is definitely meant for an adult audience, but other then that its a good movie! way better than Iron Man 3 crapp, which your reviewers gave it a 3.5! this is nonsense. The movie is a thrill ride, meant only for adults, its got a lot of shocking and intriguing scenes. It’s an ORIGINAL story, I definitely recommend this movie, 2.5 is a very low rating, it was shocking! it left me thinking for a while after the movie.

  10. …I also dare to disagree with the reviewer… the ending was great! it couldn’t end any better. This film really turned the tables upside down. Seriously, some of these reviewers don’t have a taste for good story or good quality film.