2013, 101mins, 15
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer (s): John Hodge, Joe Ahearne
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross
UK Release Date: 27th March 2013
“Trance” is a deliberately pesky feature from director Danny Boyle, a trippy, mind-fuck of a motion picture as committed to bamboozling as it is delivering entertainment. Boyle’s last few films (2008’s overrated “Slumdog Millionaire” & 2010’s adequate “127 Hours”) have lacked the genre sparkle of his very finest works (I’m thinking “Trainspotting” & “28 Days Later”), “Trance” appreciatively bringing some of that previously absent magic home. A tolerance for mental aerobics is advised before digesting this twisty psychological thriller, but if “Shutter Island” and “Inception” rate amongst your favourite flicks of recent years then “Trance” should distinguish itself as one of 2013’s tastiest treats. It’s certainly nice to have Boyle back where he belongs.
An art dealer with a severe gambling problem, Simon (James McAvoy) decides to help criminal Franck (Vincent Cassel) nab a priceless Goya during auction, in order to satisfy mounting debts. When the painting vanishes mid-heist and Simon is left with a concussion, the gangsters come knocking, convinced their forgetful accomplice has the key to the art’s location. Franck quickly establishes that Simon’s amnesia is very real, enlisting the help of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). As Elizabeth begins to paw through Simon’s damaged memories she finds an unstable but intriguing man, a bond beginning to form between the two much to Franck’s chagrin. With time pressing forward and mysteries coming to the fore with startling regularity, the trio are forced to face some harsh truths and frightening surprises in order to recapture their loot.
Visually “Trance” is everything you could want from a Danny Boyle effort. The British film-maker has long been known for his unique style and distinct editorial quirks, used perfectly here to convey the messy headspaces and false mental realities the narrative tramples through. Regular collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle blends inner and outer consciousness together with true artistic flare, embracing Boyle’s frenzied camera movements by lacing the picture with an ethereal glow. “Trance” is a rich picture to witness even on a surface level, consistently finding inventive and fearsome ways to communicate visual information. It has a tangible atmosphere; that of a traditional British crime thriller mixed with something flightier and increasingly dreamlike. It may sound like Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” but Boyle and Dod Mantle have a unique touch, a lavish polish of their own. Any familiarity is purely suggested by premise.
McAvoy is dependably sympathetic but wrangles up a sterner streak when the picture demands it. “Trance” isn’t overly interested in assessing the past of its numerous scoundrels, instead Boyle is much more caught up in the significance of the here and the now. This allows the picture to keep its revelatory secrets hidden with satisfactory ease, but to also explore the fundamental basics of the human mind. “Trance” uses sex, memory and greed to gently manipulate its viewership and define its characters, helping the hypnosis-fuelled head mania to retain at least a thematic simplicity. The plot demands attention, its many curves and intricacies warranting focus in order for the story to resonate, but the fuel for its fire is refreshingly simple. The human mind is a combustible thing, an organ which seeks to protect and gratify above all else. This over-arching thesis supplies the film with a jumping off point for its tantalizing journey.
Vincent Cassel is more restrained than usual, which is both a negative and a plus. I like the French actor when he’s emoting like hell, hamming it up to drastic effect, but such firepower would look out of place here. His turn is restrained and unselfish, providing the film with perhaps its most level-headed and grounded presence. Not something you can write about much of the actor’s other work. The brightest star is Rosario Dawson, wielding her femininity with a quiet power, daring audiences to pigeonhole her as either good or evil. She underplays every sequence with unnerving confidence, forging strong and vitally brave physical rapports with both leading men. By its very DNA “Trance” won’t trouble the Academy next year, they have little use for such brazen fare, but Dawson’s poised and elegant work here equals that of any actor in Boyle’s recent awards-baiting work.
“Trance” scuttles off in a variety of directions come the violent finish, using visceral human emotion, tight camerawork and horrifying sound design to keep things moving at a gripping clip. There is of course a major twist (much more thought provoking than the usual superficial third act trick) and a degree of independent puzzle-solving to be considered. There’s an ambiguity at the end, a mixing of realities that perfectly highlights the heady cocktail Boyle has created. It’s a deft and effortlessly exciting feature with a clever film-making fingerprint to help steer it toward greatness. You won’t see many better thrillers this year, I guarantee it.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013