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James McAvoy
Rosario Dawson
Vincent Cassel.
Danny Boyle.
Joe Ahearne
John Hodge.
Running Time
101 minutes

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Simon (McAvoy) double-crosses Franck (Cassel), his partner in an art heist, but suffers amnesia after a head injury and can’t recall where he has hidden a stolen Goya masterpiece. Franck insists Simon consult hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson), dragging her into a game of multiple betrayals and buried memories...

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Danny Boyle is admirably unpredictable in his choice of projects. He’s always been hard to get a handle on. Shallow Grave wasn’t the big-screen debut you would expect from someone who’d directed Inspector Morse episodes. Trainspotting and The Beach hinted that he might become a specialist in adapting contemporary cult novels, then he turned out a zombie movie, a space opera, a Bollywood fable and an I-cut-off-my-own-arm true story... finding time to mount a stage production of Frankenstein which will shadow future film adaptations of the novel and to mastermind an Olympics Opening Ceremony that confounded the cynics and affronted the Establishment.

But eclecticism isn’t the same thing as having no interests of his own: Boyle has always been drawn to heists (when it finally settles down to having a plot, Trainspotting is about a robbery), compromised innocents involved in the messy aftermaths of criminal schemes (Shallow Grave and Millions are both about lost loot), small groups of people at brutal cross-purposes (whether squabbling over cash or surviving an apocalypse) and journeys into the minds and memories of desperate, trapped individuals (whether high on heroin, interrogated on a quiz show or pinned by a rock).

Trance, an expanded remake of a TV movie written and directed by Joe Ahearne in 2001, opens with a Scorsese-style illustrated lecture — narrated by protagonist Simon, played by James McAvoy with a Scots smartarsiness that can’t help but evoke once-upon-a-time Boyle fixture Ewan McGregor in his amoral boyish-grin phase — on art thievery, from the good old black-and-white days when hoods could barge into an auction room with guns and grab a Rembrandt from the block, to a modern world of high-tech security measures and vanloads of hired goons in an alley. Then, a gang led by smooth yet feral foreigner Franck (Vincent Cassel) deftly executes a smash-and-grab raid targeting a £25,000,000 Goya — which nets only the empty frame.

Inside-man Simon staggers away from the scene of the crime, battered, dazed, confused, and has to have a hole drilled in his skull. Any memories he might have of where the painting is leak away, misplaced rather than lost. Working on his fingernails with a Stanley knife doesn’t get anywhere, so Franck offers Simon a selection of London-based hypnotherapists and he picks — as anyone would — the one played by Rosario Dawson, who breezes into the film in full-on ’90s noir mode as if dreamed up by Joe Eszterhas rather than Joe Ahearne. Then, things get tricky...

Like Inception, Fight Club, Total Recall or The Sixth Sense, Trance is an awkward film to discuss without giving too much away, but actually quite difficult to spoil — so much of what is revealed in Simon’s hypnotherapy sessions is only provisional. Dr. Lamb, whose character name is plainly ironic in a film full of predators, gets Simon to envision the locked-off sections of his past as an idyllic trip through the French countryside with a beautiful woman (Tuppence Middleton) to a chapel-like secret gallery where all the lost, stolen or destroyed masterpieces of the world are on display. In and out of his trance, Simon undergoes electroshock mindwarp therapy to try and shake the truth loose. This uncovers a mosaic of overlapping, contradictory memories and fantasies, as Elizabeth, Simon and Franck act out a three-way relationship in scenes which might or might not be happening... paying off with several endings that are guaranteed to generate lengthy threads of conflicting theories on the IMDb as to who is dead, alive, a ghost, a doppelgänger, sane, crazed, saintly, sinister, shaven (Cassel’s chin and Dawson’s crotch are key signifiers for this film — seriously, there’ll be sidebars about them), culpable or a complete innocent.

Trance marks a reunion for Boyle with screenwriter/medical practitioner John Hodge, who worked with him on his early films. This does feel more of a piece with Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and (ahem) A Life Less Ordinary than, say, 28 Days Later or Slumdog Millionaire, with its small cast and dog-eat-dog (or dog-buries-dog-alive) attitudes. However, we’re not in grubby Scotland but steel-and-glass London, a fantasy heist-movie world (Hodge also wrote the recent film of The Sweeney, which has a similar milieu) inhabited by sophisticated miscreants — the three supporting members of Franck’s gang are disposable thugs, who quite properly get disposed of several times — and desperate victims. A problem which sets in as the film goes on is that the more we find out about the three main characters, the less we like them. McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel are gorgeous objects caressed by Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera (they all get to appear nude and/or prettily abused), but Simon, Elizabeth and Franck are difficult to care about, even before the script gets to going over its story several more times filling in narrative gaps with information which compromises any possible empathy we might feel for them. And it doesn’t stop with the end of the film — you can argue on the way home who the most reprehensible person is, or even whose trance we’ve been in, and whether the final explanation given is even final.

Danny Boyle is, at this stage of his career, among the handful of first-rate filmmakers working currently at the very top of their game — but he can sometimes get so caught up in story and conjuring tricks that he omits (or turns away from) the human connection which made Slumdog Millionaire his biggest critical and commercial hit. Classic film noir thrived on a lack of conventionally sympathetic characters (amnesia was a favourite plot device in the ’40s, too), but tended to root them in the kind of urban reality Boyle explored in Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Trance owes more to those glossy, Eszterhas-type erotic thrillers of the ’90s, where everyone — even those in desperate personal straits — was wealthy enough to afford an apartment with a view as expensive as a Goya and looked beautiful even while being razored. It may be that not enough time has passed to pull off a pastiche of that style and get away with the loot.

Though it rings ever so slightly hollow as cool shades into callousness, this exercise in sexy suspense and brain-scrambling mystery is a dazzling, absorbing entertainment which shows off Danny Boyle’s mastery of complex storytelling and black, black humour.

Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Average user rating for Trance
Empire Star Rating


Wow! I've watched this film a few times now this past week! - it's that good. You find something new with every watch as it's a complex film and this is what I love about it. Visually stunning and great choice of music to go with it. Brilliant work from Danny Boyle - Don't miss out and watch it despite any bad reviews you've read. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SophieHugh at 23:11, 08 April 2014 | Report This Post


Dont waste your time on this, Boyle's worst effort yet I hated it. Completely boring throughout. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gram Woods at 14:14, 25 January 2014 | Report This Post

Accomplished Deception

Danny Boyle's Trance is ultimately a film of deception, both in its content and its relationship with the audience. It begins as a heist movie, but quite quickly the audience finds itself confronted by a psychological thriller, with a protagonist whose involvement becomes increasingly ambiguous. Boyle approaches the film with appropriate subtleties; he applies intricate camera work as well as an engaging aesthetic which continually accommodate the introspective subject matter. The film’... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kidsam at 23:26, 25 December 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

Trance is an expertly directed film. It is the work of a film-maker hitting his stride. His confidence in storytelling is concise. His vision is perfectly complimented by the startling cinematography on display and there is no discernible excess fat about which to quibble. Yet Danny Boyle’s Trance doesn’t quite work. Boyle’s first post-Olympic gig is a twisty tale of the aftermath of an art heist where our protagonist and auction house worker James McAvoy loses his memory during said robbe... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Biggus at 22:50, 15 December 2013 | Report This Post

A Racist Feminist Propaganda Movie

All three major scenes of torture the black male character went through were reminiscent of the tortures inflicted on black men during slavery and after. Buried alive (as during slavery), genitals destroyed (as during Jim Crow) and trapped in a chair struggling as if being executed on death row (as in the american prison system). Why, of the members of the gang was the black character selected for all these methods of suffering and destruction. It's basically typical of the desire to see bla... More

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Posted by Truthorator at 08:15, 25 November 2013 | Report This Post

"No piece of art is worth a human life."

At times disturbing, poignant and surreal, Trance is a kinetic, cerebral, funny and fast-paced psychological thriller whose fractured, multilayered narrative should give your brain plenty to munch on... an eccentric and altogether compelling cinematic treat. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 16:18, 15 November 2013 | Report This Post

"No piece of art is worth a human life."

At times disturbing, poignant and surreal, Trance is a kinetic, cerebral, funny and fast-paced psychological thriller whose fractured, multilayered narrative should give your brain plenty to munch on... an eccentric and altogether compelling cinematic treat. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 16:18, 15 November 2013 | Report This Post


On my way to America, I had access to some great new films - this one included. Trance is a superb film by Danny Boyle, made famous by his flawless London Olympics Opening Ceremony. This film has a great plot. Both thought-provoking and confusing, Trance, at times, can be hard to follow but with a strong cast, especially James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson, this film shouldn't be missed. ... More

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Posted by andef003 at 20:48, 27 August 2013 | Report This Post

Terrible movie

Really really bad. The flange shaving scene was one of the most embarrassing things I've ever had the misfortune to see. It seems for Empire there are a group of filmmakers who can do no wrong. But this really is the Emperor's New Clothes - nothing to see here. ... More

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Posted by endafk at 12:44, 11 August 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

The relatively long monologue in a dreary Scottish accent opening the film does sound familiar... Still, really enjoyed it! ... More

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Posted by V.E.N.O.M at 10:26, 10 July 2013 | Report This Post

Trance By the time Trance arrives Danny Boyle has already achieved so much. An Academy Award for Slumdog Millionaire, orchestrating the opening ceremony at the London Olympics and making one of the classic films of the last twenty 25 or so years Trainspotting. But he’s still underrated if that’s possible. Not spoken of in the same breath as Spielberg, Scorsese or Nolan yet his dazzling eclectic films deserve the status. He made this film whilst he was prepar... More

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Posted by Conboy at 15:33, 08 June 2013 | Report This Post

Confused. Please help

Mr Boyle is a national treasure and a director of style. But this was never much above interesting and I came out still not quite sure what the Hell it was all about. Maybe I am just thick. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 23:47, 10 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Boyle Does It Again

See know I really liked this film I thought it definitely had some connection to his early work like Shallow Grave and I think the twists made it easier to stay alert and keep watching unlike many films where they drift off, with this I didn't drift for one second This review though just annoys me and I think its because they are a little harsh as what alot of people have to remember it was done while he was doing the Olympics and I think we need ... More

Posted by SarahBanks195 at 15:51, 08 April 2013 | Report This Post

Boyle Does It Again

Trance is a film completely unlike any Danny Boyle has ever attempted before. Stylistically, it is probably the most similar to Sunshine, but thematically, this is an entirely different breed of animal. Tricksy and complex storytelling give way to contrived explanations and climaxes, which are every bit as satisfying as the story itself. The plot is neat but frenzied, managing to deftly leap from mystery to action without sacrificing any of the slickness that is so well built up here. All perfor... More

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Posted by blaud at 17:07, 06 April 2013 | Report This Post

Socko Excellence.

L: Dr Lenera WOW! The second great movie of 2013 if it is Inception meets Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind meets Layer Cake meets Vertigo ing film-making telling a great story. wesome mind meld neo-noir that's brilliantly constructed and performed. A neo-noir head's dream, see it on the big screen for maximum impact. Actually good Doctor Lenera, I'd say it's more Basic Instinct meets Inception and they both take out a 40s Heist movie for drinks. othing wrong with that. ... More

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Posted by JohnChard at 06:41, 06 April 2013 | Report This Post

Cinema manure

Awful film on so many levels: boring narrative (plodding), dull main character (he would've been killed after 5 mins), constant flashbacks (we learn nothing new each time), stupidly loud music (a thoughtful string score was needed), Rosario Dawson. Why the film is being praised so highly is entirely due to Boyle's name - if it had Uwe Boll's name on it as director it'd be in Kim Newman's Movie Dungeon. ... More

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Posted by lelandmeeks at 19:42, 05 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Treading water

WOW! The second great movie of 2013 if it is Inception meets Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind meets Layer Cake meets Vertigo ing film-making telling a great story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 17:43, 04 April 2013 | Report This Post

Treading water

It was ok, but nothing special. It was as if Boyle couldn't decide if he wanted it to be Layer Cake or Vertigo...and the end result fell short of both. It looks great, the performances are solid and the plot twists are entertaining, but it feels like Boyle directed it over the phone whilst concentrating on the Olympics.. ... More

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Posted by mjj at 13:54, 04 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

What I didn't like: The vehicle. Hypnotism, the art world and obsessive love are dull subjects for film. The story. Beyond daft. Dawson. Far too many fawning close-ups. And that fanny shot was ridiculous. The music. Just too loud and misplaced; used to confuse and cover cracks in the film. Technique. Fractured narratives and unreliable narrators can be tiresome. Violence. Too gleeful in its gratuitousness. Overall, the film felt like I was watching something terrible from Gu... More

Posted by Pop Leibel at 13:33, 04 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

Empire was on the button with this one. A well deserved **** rating. Not on a par with Trainspotting, but then, what is? Danny Boyle really is one of the best directors out there at the moment. I managed to see this pretty spoiler free in advance( despite all the interviews and promos on tv/radio), and it certainly worked for me. It made a change to watch a high profile release and have it genuinely surprise me throughout it's running time.There was some great writing in this and SPO... More

Posted by film man aidy at 11:46, 04 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

It was ok. Didn't quite gel with me like I hoped it would. The first hour is rather wishy washy and McAvoy aside none of the other characters are particularly interesting or likeable. The last 30 minutes redeems things somewhat, but not enough to lift the film above anything but mediocre. 2.5/5 ... More

Posted by paulyboy at 09:42, 04 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Trance

L: R W 2012 was a busy year for the British, as not only did the Olympics happened with us Brits doing terrifically well, but Danny Boyle directed the opening ceremony which was best known for the Queen jumping out of a helicopter whilst accompanied by Daniel Craig as James Bond. During this time, Boyle was making his tenth feature, a thriller in which the mind is as complicated as a labyrinth. Simon (James McAvoy) is a fine art auctioneer who gets mixed up with a criminal gang le... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnChard at 16:36, 03 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Utter Horseshit

L: hellsfoxes Amazing camera shots and color aside, this was incredibly, shockingly bad. Watching a swaggering, flashy movie waving it's sparkling cock in your face with so little interest put into making the audience give a shit about anything or anyone is abusively offensive. Can you believe this was the same man that invested his previous thrillers with so much emotion and clarity? Trance single handedly destroys the montage. Thousands of juxtapositions adding up to less than nothin... More

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Posted by JohnChard at 16:33, 03 April 2013 | Report This Post

Looks fascinating

Director Danny Boyle is famous for his dark, spooky films, with high emotional tension; take for example 127 Hours, or Slumdog Millionaire of his. They all have a complex plot, where characters, just like Trance, find themselves in dangerous waters, in harsh and hostile reality, but later fight their way out and we can somehow feel a sense of satisfaction. I would say Trance has the same pattern! You can actually find Boyle's interview on Trance below More

Empire User Rating

Posted by at 02:06, 02 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Like being put into a trance!

Seen it twice now. Definatly enjoyed it more second time around. ... More

Posted by nhassell at 00:03, 01 April 2013 | Report This Post

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