by Daniel Rester
Danny Boyle is one of the top English directors working today. From Trainspotting (1996) to 28 Days Later (2002) to Slumdog Millionaire (2008) to 127 Hours (2010), Boyle has dazzled audience members for the past two decades. He owes a lot of credit to writer John Hodge for some of his early success, as Boyle collaborated with him on his first four feature films. But the two haven’t worked together since The Beach (2000), until now. Now they reunite for Trance, with Joe Ahearne taking co-writing credit with Hodge. Does Trance hold up, or prove that the team has lost its touch when working together (some thought they lost it with Beach, but I am more forgiving of that film)?
Trance is a crime thriller that focuses on Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer who gets in over his head after a fine painting disappears. Simon is supposed to allow his colleague Franck (Vincent Cassel) to steal the painting, but Simon tries to double-cross him. This all leads to a blow to Simon’s head, which leaves him with amnesia – and with no clue as to where the painting ended up. Franck then hires Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist who tries to unlock the memories in Simon’s mind so that Franck can recover the painting.
After starting out as a brisk, well-crafted crime thriller, Trance becomes more and more twisty as it goes along. The entire movie is polished and intriguing, but by the end of the film something felt off. While one particular plot change is somewhat predictable, Trance unfolds its multiple layers so as to mislead the audience in strange ways. I’m completely fine with surprises in a script, but the ones here don’t fully gel and leaves a person with mixed feelings as to what exactly happened; particular character motivations aren’t always clear, even to some of the characters themselves, too (it seems). But it all has more of a sense of incoherency than complexity.
The bigger problem with the unfolding of these twists in this particular case, though, is that it makes it difficult to care about anyone by the climax. By this time, nearly everyone on-screen has either manipulated or cheated another person, but there is no rooting factor going for the audience. All of the characters are interesting and live in the grittier parts of Boyle’s usual worlds, but they all seem to lack the subtler humanity and grace of some of Boyle’s previous movie characters. Perhaps Boyle mis-stepped here, or perhaps Hodge did. Either way, the characters are all rendered as well-developed but dislikable by the end — and this tilts the movie in an odd way. For some movies, dislikable characters are perfect. But for this, the presentation of the characters by the end feels like a smack to the audience.
Despite such character and writing issues, I still enjoyed Trance. Most of the screenplay is actually pretty decent, providing fascinating looks into art theft and hypnotherapy. It also provides some dark moments of hilarity, though nothing near the great level of Trainspotting.
Boyle’s display of everything is colorful and kinetic, and very admirable, as usual. Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography and Jon Harris’ editing perfectly fit Boyle’s style by constantly giving the movie visual flair and energy. The music by Rick Smith (of Underworld) also fits Boyle’s workings; the soundtrack includes mesmerizing tracks by such artists as Moby and Emeli Sande. Overall, the mix of imagery and sound is certainly satisfying.
Even though the characters may not be the best, the acting here is first-rate. McAvoy presents confusion and worry perfectly as Simon, while Cassel is sharp in his part as Franck. Dawson is arguably the best in the cast, though, giving determination, cleverness, and emotionality to Elizabeth.
Boyle and Hodge, now along with Ahearne, still work well together. They make a few mistakes here with their connection to the audience through story twists and characters, but those can be swept aside for the most part. Trance still provides stylish entertainment and sticks in one’s head after it ends. It may not be a great Boyle/Hodge collaboration, but it is still a really good one – especially for fans of the two.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).