April 12, 2013
Director Danny Boyle, fresh off being dubbed a national hero for his triumph directing the Olympic ceremonies in London, took another big directorial risk with his new release Trance. It is a frenetic, haunting genre-bender that grabs hold of and keeps your attention from its first moments to its last with such force you’ll feel like you’re falling through Alice’s rabbit hole after being hurled into it by 2 burly six foot bunnies in kilts. This cinematic journey is one filled with confusion, illusions, violence and moral ambiguities, and not a head trip everyone will be willing to surrender to or appreciate. Much like the somewhat similarly convoluted Inception, it is a love it or hate it kind of flick. Whether it will be enjoyable for you depends on your fascination with film noir and movies with high velocity mind games and layered realities. If those appeal, you are likely to love it with a fierce passion.
The bones of the story involve Scottish art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) who gets mixed up with a group of thieves led by career criminal Franck (Vincent Cassel). When Simon attempts a double cross during the robbery of a multi-million dollar Goya painting, Franck gives him a crack on the head leading to an injury and amnesia about where he hid the art. They hire hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to retrieve Simon’s memories. That’s where the loopy mind trip really begins, and things get very noir from there. What really happened? Who is the bad guy and who is the good guy here? Determining the answer to those questions is what keeps the movie so engrossing.
Danny Boyle has chosen his cast well, and stars James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and VIncent Cassel are all equally on fire, but in very different ways. The thoroughly riveting McAvoy further exposes his wide acting range and power to carry an audience with him through his character arc. No other A listers could have pulled that off with such conviction. Rosario Dawson’s role is so meaty it must have started a cat fight in Hollywood. She shows she deserves to have won it, displaying equal parts controlled elegance, brittle fragility, and determination. Vincent Cassel finds a way to flesh out Franck when, in lesser hands, he could have been reduced to a caricature. His Franck is built of nuanced gestures, restraint, occasional ticks and bursts of laughter, all of which keep us guessing at his inner monologue. Fans of all three actors will declare their favorite the driving force, but each has an important part to play in the puzzle and sustained audience connection with each of them is essential. While there are clues throughout as to what is happening, what is in the mind, what is reality, and who is the hero, you will be repeatedly surprised, and your allegiance will likely switch multiple times. As actors there is no doubt they team together well to move the audience to feel from sympathy and loyalty to repulsion and back again.
I suspect the haters hate because over the course of the story they may feel tricked by the way loyalties, moral compasses, and realities switch about…but it is that very complexity that to other more responsive viewers makes it so exciting, keeping them thoroughly connected to the characters and story.
Those of you with your curiosity piqued will no doubt love Trance and may return for multiple viewings. The more times you see it, the more impressed you’ll be with how the puzzle pieces fit together, no matter how far fetched they seem at first. That Boyle, screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, and the cast could craft such an unusual, exciting, and original piece of cinema is impressive, and a wonder best experiences first hand. The cinematic journey resulting from all their hard work might blow your mind, but it’s a trip well worth taking.