Danny Boyle's 'Trance' could put you into one
05:00 AM, Apr 04, 2013
It’s worth succumbing to Trance, because director Danny Boyle is one of the most visually inventive contemporary filmmakers.
Even Boyle’s lesser films are captivating.
But the dazzling style of this labyrinthine psychological thriller ( * * ½ out of four; rated R; opening Friday nationwide) makes the viewer long for more substance.
His last two films, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, were among his best: gorgeous to look at and thoroughly absorbing. Trance falls on the other end of the spectrum. Though beguiling, it doesn’t have the dark wit of Boyle’s mysterious Shallow Grave or the pulsating suspense of Trainspotting, his harrowing portrait of drug addiction.
Instead, it relies on curves, tangles and pop psychology over a solid plot.
Part of the problem lies with the central character, played by James McAvoy, whose dimensions are left rather blank until close to the conclusion. By that time, we’ve lost interest in him.
Faring better is Rosario Dawson as a charismatic and mysterious hypnotherapist.
Vincent Cassel takes on the kind of role we’ve seen him do well before: a minor thug with major smolder potential.
The story goes forward, doubles back, then switches to an even more abstract alternate reality. The convoluted plot is meant to be an intricate mind-bender that takes place largely within the unconscious of McAvoy’s character. But it’s often more of a mind-boggler. It seems to be aiming in the direction of Inception, with a jot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Ocean’s Eleven. But the story threads snarl.
Unlike Inception, which provided clever keys to figuring out its structure, the dreamy unconscious in Trance seems haphazard, frenetic and often meaningless.
It is, however, consistently artful in at least a couple of ways.
McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer. In an introductory voiceover, Simon details the lengths to which employees at his London auction house are instructed to go to protect valuable paintings. The elaborate procedures, explained at a breakneck pace, powerfully grab our attention.
Then events quickly become obfuscated as the tale becomes mired in deceptive complications.
Cassel plays Franck, the leader of a criminal gang involved in a heist to steal a Goya painting worth several million dollars. Franck roughs up Simon, then takes him to see hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Dawson) to probe hidden memories. She could be a femme fatale manipulating his psyche or a compassionate professional. Or something else entirely. Simon could be a diligent auctioneer, or something more sinister. To say more would be to give too much away. And to confuse.
Confusion is a key component. Seeking to plumb the deepest recesses of Simon’s unconscious, Elizabeth puts him in a series of trances. Imagination and memories are blurred.
A shadowy color palette, hypnotic electronic score and moody atmosphere all serve the film well, along with Dawson’s sultry performance. But McAvoy seems miscast. Simon has deep reserves of unpredictability and malice that McAvoy seems too likable to convey. He’s supposedly beset by a host of demons, but his mild-mannered quality makes it hard to buy. In fact, it would help to know more about all the characters’ back stories. Without that information, the many U-turns the story takes are not as engrossing or suspenseful as they should be.
The film descends into extreme and seemingly gratuitous violence, rendering this hallucinatory heist thriller more off-putting than mesmerizing.