Published on August 26th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Summary: Danny Boyle's psychological thriller is a sleek, shiny and dizzying picture. It's well-acted but can be a frustrating watch. Inception meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
R | 102 min.
Director: Danny Boyle | Screenplay: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
Studio: Cloud Eight Films, Pathé International, Film4 Productions | Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The best artists continue to raise the bar with each passing project they create. No matter the medium — Springsteen, Dylan, Scorsese, Kubrick, PT Anderson have all made careers out of not resting on their laurels. I think it’s safe to add Danny Boyle to that list.
With game-changers like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire to his credit in the past two decades, Boyle has become a filmmaker we expect great things from. Perhaps that’s why his 2013 film Trance left me underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a bad movie — in fact, if any average director’s name were attached to it I may call it a triumph — but because it’s Boyle’s, it just feels average. This is a slick, glossy, sexy crime thriller that takes risks in telling its story yet still feels safe by comparison with most of his other work. As heist movies go, Trance is more akin to Christopher Nolan’s Inception than Michael Mann’s Heat. You’ve got the obligatory suit-clad tough guys but most of the picture’s conflict comes from inside its main character’s head rather than gun-toting baddies.
The story centers on the likable Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer at one of London’s high-brow auction houses. Due to one hell of a gambling habbit, Simon gets involved with a group of gangsters led by the fearsome Franck (Vincent Cassel), who orchestrates a robbery of the auction house. To eliminate his debt, Simon goes along but while stealing a valuable painting he’s clubbed on the head which gives him amnesia. Franck sends Simon to a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (the great Rosario Dawson), who attempts to plumb his subconscious to find where he placed the stolen art work before losing his memory.
Trance‘s storyline takes a sharp turn in its third act — which I will say nothing else about because it delivers a solid twist. In fact, the movie’s reveal isn’t just an interesting plot device but it also forces the audience to rethink everything they thought they knew about it central character.
Performance-wise, Trance is well done. Each of the three principle actors are strong, not simply adhering to generic character types. This is not the type of film that has a clear protagonist/antagonist dynamic — McAvoy & Cassel trade those roles evenly. Honestly, both gentlemen serve only as set up for Rosario Dawson, though.
It felt like forever since I had seen Dawson strutting her badass self across the big screen and she stuns in Trance. She plays the type of brainy, tough, and impossibly hot character she perfected in 2000s movies like Death Proof, Clerks II, and Sin City. Dawson has never been afraid of showing her God-given gifts onscreen but she takes it to a whole new level in Trance, delivering one of the gutsiest nude scenes in recent film history — especially given that Boyle is her ex-boyfriend, meaning it could have been reeeeeeaaaaal awkward on set that day.
Obviously there are a lot of good things to say about Trance (and I haven’t even included the Cronenberg-esque gore included in one of the film’s trippy dream sequences) but getting back to my initial point, it still managed to leave me a little flat. The movie felt severely under-written for a movie directed by an Oscar winner. While there is a lot of experimentation within the film’s frames, it still feels very safe when compared to Boyle’s resumé.
Trance attempts to disorient its viewers by blurring the lines between reality and the subconscious. The film wants to keep you feeling slightly off-balance during its run, making for a frustrating view if you go into it looking for just an entertaining ride. This is slightly more than just another mediocre thriller but if you didn’t read Boyle’s name in the credits, you would likely never guess it was one of his.