First off, I quite like Danny Boyle. His range is really quite impressive and he proved that he is able to infuse a movie with quite a bit of stylistic flair that may well save it from is rather lackluster/disappointing story (third act of Sunshine, I am looking at you). His skills are put to a good use in Trance, a slightly trippy, energetic and at times shockingly violent film.
The central ideas explored in Trance include repressed memories and how suggestible our minds are once we are willing to let someone in. Comparing this movie with Inception is understandable, but overall, it is a much more intimate affair, lacking that breakneck action which defined Inception’s third act (at least for me). While Inception was overall a heist movie, this is a thriller, with relatively little action. In a nutshell, don’t go into this movie expecting spinning corridors and a star studded ensemble cast. What you will get out though, is a movie with great cinematography, good soundtrack selection, good acting and a plot which is good to a point, but could do with a bit of trimming due to some plot holes that boggle the mind.
The story starts with a montage about dangers of being a fine arts auctioneer, told by the main character, Simon Newton (McAvoy). McAvoy brings quite a bit of charm to the role, something bolstered by a pretty well written dialogue during the scene. His normal working day is ruined by a quartet of incredibly well dressed thieves, led by Franck (Cassel). The heist itself is directed with quite a bit of efficiency, which however did not detract from its stylishness. The result of this was me yearning for a heist movie directed by Danny Boyle. However, this is neither here nor there. In any case, the setup is simple, with Simon attempting to stop the heist in an ill-advised moment of heroism and getting hit in the face for his trouble. However, the painting in question (Witches in the Air by Francisco Goya) is missing, after what appeared to be a successful heist.
This leads to Franck enlisting the help of a hypnotherapist (Dawson) when it becomes clear that due to the head trauma Simon is not going to remember the particulars of the heist, more specifically what happened to the painting. The inclusion of hypnosis as a plot point serves as a justification for visual trickery that Boyle is known for. Some sequences are a delight to watch, especially one involving French countryside, a small chapel and an iPad. Yes, there are iPads in this film. More than one in fact. The colours are vibrant and energetic which makes the darker themes present in this movie a bit more palatable.
While the divide between reality and dream/hypnosis is quite clear in the beginning, it becomes less so as the plot progresses. The second act of the film lacks the immediacy of the first one, with the plot becoming a bit weighed down by the interpersonal drama between characters, with their darker facets being exposed for us to see. Depending on how much you are willing to suspend your disbelief, this is very much rescued by a relatively strong third act which deals with very dark issues that you would not expect this movie to. While some plot points rely very much on our acceptance of hypnosis as a master tool which can be applied the way it is in this movie, the style and verve brought by Boyle rescues this movie and makes it very worthwhile to watch.
Casting is pretty good, with McAvoy and Cassel leaving a rather favourable impression once all is said and done. McAvoy brings a lot of charm (he even uses his Scottish accent) to a role that at times is rather unsympathetic. Despite me knowing that he really does not deserve it, I found myself rooting for him by the end (strange, I know). Cassel brings his usual intensity to the role, playing a rather affable character capable of great violence and rage. His demeanor can shift from a smile to a sneer in an instant, which is really something you should see for yourself. Admittedly, I am quite a fan of his, after seeing him in Eastern Promises and Black Swan, so if you liked him in those roles, you will probably appreciate him here. Rosario Dawson is not given much to work with here, which is unfortunate as plot wise she should really occupy an important position. Unfortunately, she is very much a satellite character, defined by her relationships with other characters
- The soundtrack is quite good, using quite a lot of electronic music. Once again, this is a collaboration between Boyle and Rick Smith of Underworld fame, so if you are a fan of scores in previous Boyle films, you will probably like it. There is also a pretty good use of UNKLE which I am quite partial to. Give it a listen here and here
- It appears that everybody who lives in London lives in a flat which I can only afford if I sell most of my organs. In other words, the flats in this movie are incredibly cool and probably extremely expensive. Quite a bit of an upgrade compared to the squalor of Trainspotting
- Again, I really think that a movie could be improved with some things not spelled out and better left to viewer’s imagination. Not only it would add some ambiguity to the characters involved, it would also avoid a terrible plot hole that was created as a result of the scene (the one at the end)
- McAvoy is pretty good in the role, providing a lot of humanity to his character, while some of his mannerisms early on indicate that there is more to him that it seems. To say more would be to spoil the plot, so I will stop there.
- Cassel is good as usual, while looking cool as well. Probably all due to his accent. On another note, most of his roles seem quite similar. He really ought to take on something different to avoid typecasting.
- Rosario Dawson really deserved a bit more screen time spent on fleshing out her character. Despite that, she does reasonably well with what she is given, especially bolstered by scene near the end of the movie (not the ending itself though)
- Cassel’s multiracial henchmen are played rather adequately. At no point did I pause and think: “Good god, these guys are terrible.”, so they fulfilled their role perfectly. Hooray for adequacy, I suppose?
Conclusion – Trance is a fun movie, which attempts to deal with pretty heavy issues. Some of it is done rather well, while some points suspended my disbelief to its breaking point. Either way, it is all made worth it thanks to Boyle’s cinematography. Do give it a watch.