Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: John Hodge, Joe Ahearne
Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani
Release date: March 27th, 2013
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Countries: UK, France
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: Boyle’s direction.
Worst part: The multitude of plot-twists.
Memory can be a powerful tool. We can relive our greatest moments and worst experiences in great detail. It’s a mechanism that can also be warped in miraculous or disastrous ways. Many films have focused on this powerful and engaging topic. Hollywood’s latest examination of the mind is Trance. It’s a convoluted yet profound experience. It’s, for lack of a better word, mind-boggling.
The film opens with the lead character, Simon (James McAvoy), explaining how an art auction should operate. His job is vital to the security and preservation of famous paintings from many countries and centuries. He also doubles as an insider for a dangerous band of French criminals. Led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), the criminals storm the auction house, take out the security system, and head for Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air. However, Simon’s heroism draws him to the painting before Franck can reach it. Suffering a blow to the head from the butt of Franck’s gun, Simon’s concussion leads to amnesia. When torture fails to work, Franck hires seductive hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help them find the missing painting. Her experimental procedures put everyone involved in danger. Simon must find the painting and uncover his darkest secrets before it’s too late.
Trance is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best films of 2013 so far. It’s a rich, sprawling and stylish thriller with a heartening touch. This film is similar to Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Side Effects. Both films contain layers that are both alluring and secretive. You’ll need to be wide awake to engage with the film’s many surreal elements. The movie becomes exhausting well before the final revelation. However, it’s nice to see A-list directors tackling slick yet inventive stories. Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is essentially the British version of Soderbergh. Boyle’s body of work varies in tone and genre, but his trademark visuals remain. He has taken on dark sci-fi adventures (Sunshine), docudramas (127 Hours), zombie apocalypses (28 Days Later) and family flicks (Millions). It’s exciting to compare Trance to other films in Boyle’s impressive filmography. It may not be his best film, but it’s still an electric and satisfying psychological-thriller. It’s much slicker than many of his previous efforts. It appropriately and efficiently focuses on style more so than substance. Boyle still manages to meticulously craft every twist and turn inside this convoluted story. The collaboration between him and screenwriters John Hodge and Joe Ahearne has created a visceral example of escapist entertainment.
If you mixed Hitchcock’s most polarising thrillers, with 40s film noirs (e.g. Double Indemnity) and Boyle’s impressive oeuvre, then Trance would be the end result. Just like Inception, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Trance led me up one path whilst distracting me from the paths it intersected with. Hypnosis, psychology and memory are dangerous tools in this cat-and-mouse game. Its heist-thriller sequences intersect with both psychological-drama and sexy romantic-thriller elements. It was the Les Diaboliques-like story and arresting character threads that thrilled me. As the film delves deeper into Simon’s shattered state, the violence and nudity increases. These elements may seem gratuitous, but they heartily push the story toward its shocking conclusion. The characters are found lurking inside each memory. It becomes increasingly difficult to decipher reality from fantasy. Boyle’s kinetic visuals also elevate what could’ve been a lacklustre Memento wannabe. His visuals have distracted me in the past. It seems that Boyle has learnt from such mistakes as Sunshine’s messy final third and The Beach’s overt silliness. Bright, contrasting colours flood every scene. Shots are defined by peculiar angles, images, and movements. Meanwhile, the film’s punchy editing style precisely folds everything together. It’s ironic that Boyle’s taste in trance music works to this film’s advantage. The pulsating score pushes Trance into overdrive.
“I was really good, but not good enough. And not good enough really isn’t very good.” (Simon (James McAvoy), Trance).
Boyle is honest about the type of film he has created. He has made a psychological thriller that creates its own demented sense of fun. When the line “no piece of art is ever worth a human life” is uttered, Boyle is clearly winking at the audience. The film benefits from its Hitchcockian characters. They quickly become lost inside this catastrophic situation. Simon is a common man disarmed by multiple forms of temptation. Addicted to gambling, his eventual downfall into criminality brings his dark side to the surface. His description of the auction heist is both poised and engaging. McAvoy has proven himself to be a phenomenal actor. Able to leap from one genre to another, McAvoy balances charm and a fierce screen presence. Cassel has proven his worth in both French and Hollywood cinema. Famous for stunning tough-guy performances in La Haine and Eastern Promises, he is able to bring both charisma and style to any role. In Trance, he convincingly churns out a menacing and vindictive character. Underrated actress Rosario Dawson, Boyle’s ex-girlfriend, goes all out for her role as the slinky hypnotherapist. Her character is the queen of experimental therapy. Her practices are so controversial they would make Sigmund Freud fall off his chair.
From the heart-thumping Heat-like heist sequence, to the film’s creative resolution, Trance is an old-school thriller with 21st century filmmaking sensibilities. Boyle may not be doing his best work here, but it’s still a startling achievement. Trance is an examination of the human condition that never forgets to have fun.