Excluding the most bizarre (and definitely most British) Olympics ceremony in the history of man, it’s been 3 years since we’ve last had Danny Boyle behind the camera. And ditching that big budget style, the auteur is now back, reteaming wih his old Shallow Grave and Trainspotting co-writer John Hodge, for a clever little mind bending erotic/crime caper/drama/thriller/[insert genre of choice here] in Trance.
Trance gets off to a really promising start, with Boyle doing an uncanny impersonation of fellow Brit filmo, Guy Ritchie. It’s all witty, fourth-wall breaking voiceovers and humorous quick edits as James “If you can’t get Ewan McGregor, I’m available” McAvoy’s Simon explains what happens in the case of a robbery at the art auction house where he works.
Of course, on cue, there is a robbery, only it’s not Boris the Bullet Dodger as you may have been expecting, but rather a motley crew of bandits led by the mean mugging Franck (Vincent Cassel) who is going after a $20 million Goya painting. The trick is that Simon is his inside man. Simon’s trick is that he wants the painting for himself. No honour… thieves… you know the drill. Unfortunately, during the robbery, he receives a vicious blow to the head for his double-crossing troubles, but not before stashing the stolen painting somewhere.
And here’s where Boyle and Hodge’s script has it’s first little clever twist: Due to Simon’s head injury, he can’t remember where he hid the painting. Enter stage left, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist that Franck brings in to help Simon remember after divorcing him from some fingernails apparently doesn’t seem to do the trick. But once Elizabeth learns of the loot at stake, she decides to play her own game, armed with a rather compelling (and sometimes very literal) hypnotic hold on the two men.
It’s a great setup, and as the femme fatale with almost supernatural mind bending abilities, Dawson shines. All hypnotically soft voice and swaying hips, she is sex on legs, much to the dismay of Franck and Simon’s self-control. She’s also easily the most memorable aspect of Trance, only one-upped by her own genitals. Yes, you read that correctly, her genitals. And while Boyle and Hodge’s script actually has a narrative-based reason for her showing us her lady bits, it unfortunately still feels really gratuitous as there are so many other angles the story could have taken. Especially because when you first see it, it’s so unexpected and only explained 30 minutes later.
Up against that tag-team, McAvoy and Cassel doesn’t stand much of a chance of garnering attention, but while McAvoy still tries to fight for his spot in the limelight with a spirited performance, the usually electric Cassell seems resigned to his second string fate here. His lackadaisical turn results in you not knowing what side of the moral divide he belongs, but not because of character complexity, rather because he simply doesn’t do enough to convince either way. This was a role originally intended for Michael Fassbender before he had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts, and I would love to have seen what he could have done with it.
Having done everything from drug dramas to zombie flicks, Boyle is a chronic genre hopper, and never is that more apparent than Trance where his kitchen sink style is on full display. What starts off as a slick heist movie turns into a high concept crime drama, then an erotic psychological thriller, before finally turning it up to 11 and just going batshit crazy. But admittedly, some of these tonal transitions are a bit more successful than others.
Through it all though, Boyle maintains his signature artistic flair, leading to some very surreal moments where, just as the characters sometimes don’t know if what they’re seeing is real or a hypnotically induced vision, we as the audience don’t either. Adding to this, he also makes use of some sneaky editing to play with the film’s time structure so that scenes are not always shown in their correct place, making for a twisting, turning dream-puzzle of a narrative that only has all it’s pieces fall into place at the film’s final reveal.
Alas, that reveal suffers from being simultaneously too simple as well as too complex. Simple due to it being too easy to spot for anybody who cottons onto all the obvious foreshadowing that the characters’ dialogue does, and too complex because to get to that spot, Boyle and Hodge have the story take some seriously unnecessarily winding paths. Some of those paths, like in the case of one central character, taking some logical hairpin turns resulting in a sudden personality transformation that hits with the subtlety of… well, Rosario Dawson suddenly showing us her privates.
Trance has some really clever ideas and is shot like only Danny Boyle can, and features an especially brave and standout performance from Dawson, but in the end I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t quite entrance as it just gets a little too clever for its own good.
Last Updated: April 29, 2018