Danny Boyle is one of my favorite filmmakers. His Trainspotting is my favorite flick of all time and some of his other work I would put high up on my list as well (28 Days Later, Sunshine, 127 Hours). When I saw he was working with his Trainspotting screenwriter, John Hodge, for his newest endeavor I became super excited and couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for the audience. Getting tickets for an advance screening of Trance was great as well because I was trying to keep spoiler free and with the movie being released in a few days I knew that would be impossible due to my internet habits. Here’s the rundown…
Art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) attempts to stop a thief (Vincent Cassel) from stealing a rare Goya painting and receives a brutal concussion for his effort. It turns out that Simon was an inside man for the heist and he hid the painting before it was stolen, but due to his injury he has no memory of where he put it. Simon is sent to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember, but things begin to get complicated once she probes into his mind.
I can’t think of a movie that I’ve seen recently where my feelings toward it fluctuated as much as it did with Trance. At the start I was digging the hell out of it due to its frantic pace, awesome music and a sense of fun not seen in a Boyle film since A Life Less Ordinary. Then the hypnotherapist angle came into play and things slowed down a little and the story became muddled. My interest began to wane. At about the halfway point a major twist took place and I was totally invested again, but that was ruined by a series of nonsensical events that completely took me out of the movie. At one point I said to myself “This is fucking stupid”. But when the epic finale took place and all is explained away I realized that this movie was a gigantic puzzle that needed to be pieced together in gradual amounts for it to work. When the credits rolled I still had a couple of minor quibbles with Trance, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it and it’s manipulation of my expectations.
Boyle has dipped his toe into many different genres during his career. He’s made a thriller (Shallow Grave), a romantic comedy (A Life Less Ordinary), a horror film (28 Days Later), an existential drama (The Beach), a sci-fi spectacular (Sunshine), a children’s film (Millions), a biographical drama (127 Hours) and a faux Bollywood drama (Slumdog Millionaire). This is another thriller, but it strays into the erotic thriller subgenre occasionally. Trance is very successful when it comes to the thriller aspect, but is pretty underwhelming in the erotic department (regardless of Dawson’s full frontal nudity). There’s a weak love triangle going on that is more of a distraction than anything else, and some of the sex scenes seem forced and off-putting.
However, Boyle still has it where it counts when it comes to his usual intense visual sensibilities, manic energy and interestingly stylish storytelling tricks (thanks to some brilliant editing by Jon Harris). The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is vibrant, trippy and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful. There were times that the wild color schemes reminded me of, and I mean this in the best possible way, Batman & Robin. You have to admit, as bad as that flick was it had its shit together in the technical departments. Boyle’s knack for putting together an awesome soundtrack is on display in full force. The score by Rick Smith of Underworld combined with some kickin’ songs by UNKLE and Moby fill out the aural soundscape with energy to spare (I want the soundtrack asap).
All the actors put in great performances. James McAvoy gets to stretch his range a little and Vincent Cassel, who normally plays heavies, gets to play one who isn’t as nasty as everyone seems to think he is. The real standout is Rosario Dawson. I’ve never seen her in a movie or a role like this before. She’s sexy, alluring and more than a little deceitful. Her character is the reason why most of the events don’t seem to connect because you never know if what we are being shown is real or some sort of event planted subconsciously by her hypnotherapy methods. She sells everything extremely well and the film benefits greatly due to her performance.
The story takes some wild twists and turns, some good and some bad. I won’t ruin anything since the movie hinges on these moments, but I will say that the final few minutes were a bit on the hokey side. Boyle lays out the events in a strange non-linear fashion that might give some people a migraine, but to someone like me who has an affinity for all things Tarantino it was a welcome bonus.
I wish I could discuss what goes on in Trance in more detail, but I don’t want to go into spoiler territory. I went into this movie with only a basic idea of the film, “An art dealer goes to a hypnotherapist to help him remember where he hid a painting”, and nothing more. You should do the same. I will say this… it’s a complex tale that examines the question “do our memories shape who we are?” Like Dark City, it takes some heady concepts and turns it into a hugely entertaining mind fuck of a flick. I highly recommend checking it out as soon as it’s released. And, like The Sixth Sense, go see it again right after to find all the clues you missed the first time around.
4 out of 5