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James McAvoy stars in the baffling psychological thriller “Trance.”

Misdirection and speed used to fool viewers of ‘Trance’

The new psychological thriller Trance looks great. In the wandering opus, director Danny Boyle shows off his internationally renowned skill for projecting visual imagery, as evinced previously not only by his films (Slumdog Millionaire) but also by his staging of the opening ceremonies at the London Olympics.

Here, he again paints striking portraits that seem to reflect the inner chaos of his characters. But unfortunately, in doing so, he loses track of his narrative, resulting in an erratically confusing, jumbled unraveling of Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s screenplay.

The main difficulty in staying attuned to Trance and its endless divergences — many of which may or may not be imagined — is that its plot hinges on the audience accepting the efficacy of hypnosis and the hoary plot device of amnesia. (At one point, one of the minor characters says, “Amnesia is bollocks.”)

To overcome audience reluctance in accepting these two blatant contrivances, Ahearne and Hodge’s script throws in a surfeit of scientific and medical-sounding terms. Boyle confuses matters by not delivering the faux explanations somberly, but instead with quick cuts, Caligari-esque camera angles and a speedy pace.

Trance revolves around Simon (James McAvoy), an employee at a London auction house where a priceless Goya painting is stolen. During the robbery, Simon suffers a blow to the head, giving him amnesia. But it is also quickly revealed he was part of the heist by a gang led by Frank (Vincent Cassell).

Before long, Frank’s crew tortures Simon to “help” him remember where the painting is. Then, as one big happy family, they all decide Simon should go to a hypnotherapist to help him retrieve his memory. And that’s when things turn loopy.

It seems the therapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), has an agenda of her own, and it may include sleeping with Frank, or Simon, or whomever it takes. Boyle keeps back certain details about everyone’s relation to everyone else, so that plot points can be revealed intermittently and it will appear to be grossly dramatic. Or not.

Since Simon and Elizabeth deal mostly with Simon’s repressed memories, and his dreams, the director throws in a series of scenes that may be dreams (or not), may be hallucinations (or not), and may belong to Simon (or not).

And it could become confusing for anyone staying tuned in to the end. Or not.



** ½

Rated R, 101 minutes.

Opens Friday.


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