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The Mentalists

Trance (2013)

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Danny Boyle's new film circles back over some of the same territory he claimed nearly two decades ago, when his first movies dug under the skin of Britain and found that aspiration was the root of most evil while small-time crooks lived by their wits even when they had none. But in "Trance" things have changed, in every department. The criminals are now sharply suited slimeballs living in palatial splendor – bankers in all but occupation – while Mr. Boyle's film making has been ramped up for the occasion into a high style, a blazing sugar rush of digital camera work, Dutch angles and interior neon. And the director himself has been through an Olympian transformation, a wonderfully unexpected chain of events leaving the man who made "Trainspotting" installed as his country's national treasure on a tide of goodwill, Morale-Booster General by royal appointment.

In truth, "Trance" feels like the work of a man affected by his exertions elsewhere. The storyline is a tricksy, squirming nest of vipers, involving James McAvoy as a man with amnesia who can't remember where he hid a stolen painting, and Vincent Cassel as the nasty London criminal who badly wants him to remember. The criminal sets the amnesiac up with Rosario Dawson's hypnotist to try and unblock Mr. McAvoy's pipes, and after that the twists pile up. Mr. Boyle has dropped the name of Nicolas Roeg in connection with "Trance's" interlocked flashbacks and contradictory points of view; but really what we have here is just a serious case of unreliable narrators, a much less bitter pill than Mr. Roeg's medicine.

There's more acid in the directorial style than the story line. "Trance" is largely nighttime interiors – even for scenes that could legitimately have been exteriors – since Mr. Boyle wants to hem his characters in. The actors are constantly seen behind glass or caught in mirrors, floating in dreamy distress on the wrong side of the looking glass. Mr. Boyle knows his history, so the connection with classic mirror-worlds like "Orpheus" isn't too much of a stretch. And the best shot of all is a rare exterior, two characters bathed in red on a nighttime rooftop with a Nicholas Hawksmoor church looming behind them; London's own psycho-geography stirring the pot.

But the pacing in "Trance" comes adrift in the last act – not an entirely unusual turn of events for a film by Mr. Boyle – and a bunch of crazy digressions have to be accommodated. Just when you think you've seen everything, a plot point involving the hypnotist's pudenda turns up, intended to say something about the male gaze and pulling in a raft of issues about movie-watching and voyeurism for good measure; Ms. Dawson's lower half is lighted so adoringly in the amber light of the gods that the matter at hand becomes a mild distraction. In the end "Trance" falters, its director more sure of his gifts than ever and certainly in the mood for a dig at hypocritical Harley Street therapists and their comfy couches, but a bit too weary to funnel all that into a suitably hysterical climax.


Opens on March 27 in Britain and on April 5 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Jon Harris; music by Rick Smith; production design by Mark Tildesley; costumes by Suttirat Larlarb; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathe (Britain) and Fox Searchlight Pictures (United States). Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: James McAvoy (Simon), Vincent Cassel (Franck), Rosario Dawson (Elizabeth), Danny Sapani (Nate), Matt Cross (Dominic) and Wahab Sheikh (Riz).


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