It's lazy to suggest that the best film directors are, in a way, hypnotists, but in Danny Boyle's case, that lazy suggestion holds at least a bit of truth. In the best parts of his best movies, Boyle uses hypercolored flashes and hammering drums to batter his audiences into submission, strobing lights into their eyes as he jacks up their adrenaline. Take any number of fluid sequences throughout Slumdog Millionaire, or the most visceral chunks of 127 Hours, or the fact that the exhilarating, terrifying entirety of Trainspotting can be cooked down to that one bit set to Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." When it comes to tapping into audiences' nervous systems, Boyle's disconcertingly good—which is probably why Trance, a movie about people hypnotizing people and people manipulating people, seemed like a great film for him to make. Boyle, after all, can be very good at these things—but Trance, alas, is not.
James McAvoy plays Simon, an employee at a high-end auction house; when a Rembrandt gets stolen, Simon tries to protect it and, in the process, gets a vicious knock to the head from thief Franck (Vincent Cassel). But in what's only the first of Trance's many twists, it turns out Simon was actually working with Franck—and that vicious knock to Simon's head means that now he can't remember where he hid the painting. So! Franck and Simon inanely decide that the only way for Simon to remember is if he gets hypnotized! Enter hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who soon finds herself entwined in Simon and Franck's backassward, increasingly convoluted scheme.
Trance, like most Boyle movies, is confident, gorgeously shot, and beautifully scored—and there's undeniable potential in the idea of a psychological heist flick. But while Trance's first 10 minutes or so are tight, flashy, and fun, from the moment "I know! Let's hypnotize him!" is turned into a supposedly legitimate plot point, everything goes from taut and sharp to messy and sloppy. Twists clumsily pile on top of one another, clashing tones veer between drunken silliness and serious darkness, and McAvoy, Cassel, and Dawson all gamely, hopefully, eagerly push along, no doubt trusting Boyle will elevate Trance above its overwrought script. He doesn't, and as it all lurches toward an increasingly lame climax, the result is a wearying thing that takes its batshit premise entirely too seriously. Any number of Trance's sequences could work on their own—or hell, even serve as examples of Boyle's unique set of talents. Taken all together, they're a reminder that even really good directors can make pretty crappy movies.