Review: Danny Boyle's 'Trance' is a Wasted Jumble of Styles & Ideas
by Jeremy Kirk
April 15, 2013
Director Danny Boyle's style and cinematic charm does all it can with the screenplay for his latest, Trance. A slick art heist thriller that likes to play in more mind-blowing areas needs someone like Boyle at the helm, able to work in flare to keep your eyes focused. It's so your own mind doesn't wander from what ultimately plays like a Rubik Cube in black and white All the pieces are there, but nothing seems to ever match up. More convoluted than it's payoff is worth, Trance feels like the in-between work of a great artist, that one time he went back to his thriller roots and the psychosexuality ended up taking over. More below!
The art heist at the center of this story has three, key players. Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer at a prestigious, art auction house whose latest batch of offerings includes a precious (and very expensive) piece by Goya, Witches in the Air. Franck (Vincent Cassel) is the leader of a group of art thieves that is planning to lift the painting right in the middle of its auction. Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) is a hypnotherapist, who Simon goes to to help restore his memory. Simon is in on the job, he decides to lift the painting for himself mid-way through the heist, and an unpleasant run-in with the butt of Franck's shotgun has left him with just the right amount of disjointed memory loss. It's all just enough convenience to keep the story moving.
Unfortunately, the story in Trance doesn't move. It bundles itself up in a ball, bouncing from focus to focus, twisting itself into so many different shapes that by the time it decides to pull itself loose and reveal what it all means, the best reaction is a casual shrug. The screenplay was written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, the latter of which has written a number of screenplays for Boyle's directing purposes. The first of these was Shallow Grave, an indie thriller that works as a sum of its suitably shallow parts, but Trance is different. The shallowness is there, but it tries so hard to confuse the audience, it ends up confusing itself.
The film seems to lose itself in mind-bending visuals and moments of both violence and nudity that can only be described as jarring. Boyle is definitely a gifted talent when it comes to depictions of violence, 28 Days Later… and 127 Hours being the quickest examples to come to mind. But discomfort works in both of those instances, where real horror is supposed to be seen or felt whether the antagonist is a pack of violently infected humans or a falling boulder. With Trance, the styles clash. The editing, always clear and present to make you question whether you're seeing real life, a hypnotic mental state, or a flashback, ends up working against the film. Boyle's injects ample amounts of slickness when it's needed, grit when it's required, but when everything has been laid out for the viewer to take in, the lack of any real focus or sense of pacing is too obvious to go unnoticed.
The same can be said for each actor and the respective role they play. Simon, Franck, and Elizabeth appear to be in different movies from one scene to the next, here a hard-hitting gangster movie where thugs tear off our protagonist's finger nails. There an odd story of a patient's obsession with his therapist. Like Boyle, each actor bounces from tone to tone, pulling each of them off so well that, once they shift again, your clear understanding of who they are and what they want gets fuzzy. McAvoy and Cassel pull off cool just as well as they play creepy, but it's Dawson whose fearless streak keeps her Elizabeth as the most engaging and memorable aspect to Trance. Even when her character becomes Miss Exposition (something that happens far too often here), she delivers on cue.
And perhaps that's the best way to view the film, as bits and pieces that don't add to up to a whole helluva lot. The bricks in the road Trance lays out are all masterfully crafted, bits of drama, romance, and even sci-fi-like visual effects that give a whole new, literal vibe to the term mind-blowing. At that, Boyle excels. But for every ugly turn that same road takes, every jolt in story structure or character it decides it needs to go through, Trance ends up becoming a bigger and bigger mound of wasted potential. That creates a whole lot of white noise in your mind when you try to recollect it. In some instances, it could take a hypnotherapist to help you remember what exactly goes down in Trance.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10