Dir. Danny Boyle
(2013, R, 101 minutes)

Trance‘s approach to hypnotherapy probably bears a closer resemblance to sorcery than psychology. The crime thriller is full of lost and recovered memories, missing time, and outlandish suggestions that border on mind control. I’m no expert on hypnosis, but I’m pretty sure most of this is bollocks.

That’s not the film’s problem, though. For about the first half it’s a tricky but entertaining dance of reality, fantasy, misdirection, and questionable motives. But then it gets too clever for its own good. It has so many plot twists that it becomes a hopeless tangle; trying to pull them apart and piece them together again is at first confusing, eventually tedious. I can’t say with confidence whether it all adds up, but after the story does its sixth or seventh back flip I lost interest.

James McAvoy stars as an art auctioneer who is in over his head with a group of criminals led by Franck (Vincent Cassel). Rosario Dawson plays Elizabeth, the implausibly effective hypnotherapist who helps him recover vital lost memories. The performances of the three lead actors are all strong, especially given the difficulty of knowing who and what exactly they’re supposed to be playing in any given scene. Perhaps it was clearer to them over the course of the production than it was to me over the course of 101 minutes.

Danny Boyle directs, and I’ve sometimes found his style over-caffeinated, with a lot of unnecessarily chaotic editing that substitutes for dramatic urgency. (Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours both had this problem.) This film also features a lot of frenetic cutting, as well as intense light and shadow by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, but in this case the director’s visual intensity seems more an attempt to keep up with the screenplay by Joe Ahearne and Boyle’s frequent collaborator John Hodge.

The film is based partly on Ahearne’s 2001 TV movie of the same name. Ahearne had originally sent the script to Boyle in the 1990s, hoping for the director’s encouragement. At the time Boyle warned that the project would be “quite difficult” for a first-time filmmaker. Turns out it’s not so easy for a veteran either.