Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I See London, I See Trance

Danny Boyle has been on something of a tear lately.  His last couple films have been popular show-cases of how diverse and direct his story-telling skills can be now, and resonant with audiences.  And yet none of his recent films should have "worked:"  Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire's combination of pop culture, Bollywood, gangsterism and classic literature; 127 Hours' brutal and claustrophobic story about a man  who cuts off his own arm, which still manages to be uplifting and even inspiring.  Boyle is now a household name and an A-list director thanks to Slumdog.  His previous film, the sardonic sci-fi film Sunshine did not attract an audience, nor did his kids' film Millions (despite being delightful, both for kids and adults).  His new prestige made him the natural choice to become the creative director for last year's London Olympics.

It was while working on them that the opportunity came to take a break, and he rushed this film, Trance, into production—not that you could tell, it's full of his multi-media eclecticism that at times can run out of control.  The script had already been directed (by its writer Joe Aherne) as a TV movie in 2001.  It's a heist film with several twists, and, as Doyle has said in interviews, it was a dark tonic to the celebratory work he was doing for the Games.

We are introduced to the movie by Simon (James McAvoy) who gives us a brief art history lesson on particular paintings and their peculiarities.  But one thing about this ersatz collection sets them apart; "You haven't seen them because they've been stolen."  Simon works as an art auctioneer and walks us through a brief summary of audacious art thefts, and the precautions that auction houses take to protect their commodities.  "Lesson number one," though, is "don't be a hero.  No work of art is worth a human life." 

"Rule No. 1: Don't Be a Hero."
It's a lesson he should take to heart.  A robbery does take place, and true to instructions, Simon isn't a hero--he's in on it, the job's "inside man.'  But, in the shell-game of keeping up appearances, he is given a severe head trauma, and (isn't this a pretty picture?) can't remember what he did with the painting.    This is, of course, quite upsetting to the ringleader, Franck (Vincent Cassell), who tries to extract the information in the typical gangster fashion (old fashioned threats of death, disfigurement, and the actual pulling out of  fingernails).  Nothing breaks through Simon's personal pentimento.

Go to Plan B.  They send Simon to hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who's had quite a success breaking addictions, changing lives and messing with heads.  It's the latter skill that comes in good stead as she quickly realizes that Simon is not just a guy in need of finding his car-keys, but may be in league with the devil.  Finding his memory might make him a memory.

Doyle's good at messing with heads, as well, as Trance proves fairly quickly. 

Under his hypnotherapy, loyalties are tested (particularly the audience's), and no matter what subject matter on screen, whether grisly or enticing, it's tough to take your eyes off the screen.  Pretty soon you're not sure what's real, what's illusion...or (finally) what's going on.  Some neat tricks are played, expectations are shattered, but all to the service of a script that isn't all that great.  One can appreciate the twists and turns and diversions, and the slightly feminist slant that the movie tilts the traditional role of the femme fatale in film noir.  But, ultimately the biggest trick that's pulled is the illusion that a better movie is happening.  For all the visual pyrotechnics and the reality warping manipulation of the audience, Trance isn't that good a movie, and unconsciously or consciously, a trifle.

Trance is a Rental.

Goya's Witches in the Air—the "MacGuffin" of the movie

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