If hypnosis really had the powers it’s depicted with in Danny Boyle’s stylish thriller Trance, then hypnotists would be taking over the world, not helping people lose weight or getting them to behave goofily in stage shows. But if you can buy into hypnosis essentially as mind control, then there’s a lot to enjoy in this twisty combination of Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—especially before the characters bring things down by explaining it all.
The movie starts out as a propulsive heist thriller, with an efficient gang of thieves staging a daring art theft during a live auction, making off with a Goya painting worth tens of millions of dollars. Or so it seems—in actuality master thief Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his crew don’t have the painting at all, and their inside man, Simon (James McAvoy), has stashed it away somewhere that he doesn’t recall, thanks to getting knocked on the head during the melee. So Franck decides to hire hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to put Simon under and try to help him remember what happened to the painting.
And that’s when things get weird. Boyle and screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge (remaking the 2001 British TV movie Ahearne wrote and directed) use the idea of the limitless powers of hypnosis to play with perception, on the parts of both the characters and the audience, adding an extra layer of uncertainty to the already deception-filled story. As the movie goes on, it reveals as much about who the characters are as it does about what is happening to them, and the actors sell those revelations beautifully. It helps that the images (from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) and sounds (from composer Rick Smith) are just as slick and mesmerizing as the story.
Too bad it kind of falls apart in the last 20 minutes, as Elizabeth lays out the backstory in painstaking detail, turning much of the mysterious allure into mundane exposition. Still, Boyle’s expressive style creates its own trance to carry past the implausible explanations, all the way through to the end.