By: Garrett Collins
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel
It still boggles my mind that director Danny Boyle has been so embraced by the Hollywood community. Don’t get me wrong. This confusion isn’t due to his lack of talent. Not by a long shot. But the simple fact that his style is so daring, it would seem to be the kind of thing that Hollywood turns away from more than recognize it like they did for his 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire. Just ask David Fincher about the plight of earning respect within the confines of Hollyweird. Boyle has taken on just about every style of film known to man, and it is a testament to his creativity that he has gotten noticed without submersifying himself to mainstream commercialism . From zombie horror (28 Days Later) to science fiction (Sunshine) and of course, drug exploitation (Trainspotting), Boyle always brings his style and usually has something to say about the world around us in the process. With Trance, he leaves state of the world commentary behind and takes on the heist film genre. And in true Boyle style, it is about more than that. Everything is not always what it seems, and the plot takes so many wide turns that it started to lose me in its frantic middle portions. But Boyle straightens the 18 wheeler at the last possible moment, making Trance feel like a train ride that at times is a little rocky, but the beautiful scenery and final stop added up to a satisfying conclusion that definitely warrants more than one viewing.Trance’s pre-title sequence may be Boyle’s most riveting 10 minutes of film to date. It shows art dealer Simon (McAvoy) talking to the audience and then thrown in the middle of a multi million dollar art show theft. The object in question is a painting, and in the process of the heist, he gets hit on the head and develops amnesia. The first credit crosses the screen as Boyle shows a horizontal shot of Simon on the ground, and it is right at this moment that we are adrenalized. And then the mystery begins. Boyle mixes in a tangled web of perplexity, and his cast does well at getting us sucked in. McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) is likable enough, and the choice to periodically have him narrate what is going on was a good one as it can get very easy to be lost in questions about what is and isn’t real. Cassel has played the slithery guy who always has his hands in the cookie jar before (Black Swan) and he continues his streak of doing so here. Although, again, like all aspects of this film, his character is not what he initially seems, and Cassel is tremendous at playing each and every portion of his character’s arc. But of the performances here, the one that will probably be most talked about is that of Boyle’s (ex) girlfriend Dawson.
It seems only fitting that nearly twenty years after the release of Kids, that film’s director and star, both of which were making their debuts then, have movies coming out this year within a month of each other. But while Spring Breakers was a messy excursion by director Harmony Korine, Dawson more than holds her own in Trance’s female starring role. I’ve heard people call her performance daring, but I wouldn’t go that far. She is, however, more than adequate, and her role of Elizabeth the hypnotist plays a bigger part in the gist of Trance‘s story than one would assume. Always in the background of other mainstream films, Dawson is front and center here. And, like Cassel, throws her weight around in the noir-ish atmosphere that Boyle creates. She is also at the heart of the many reveals that Trance slowly unravels, and in each of these scenes (especially the end) she delivers dialogue that is unlike the speech of a damsel in distress that you might be expecting.
With the help of frequent cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Boyle litters Trance with style. No matter what issues I have with the film’s narrative (and I have a few), Trance comes off as a straight beautiful film to look at. From dark blues to deep reds and bright yellows, Trance is a revolving door of pallets, and Boyle uses these pieces to help form the puzzle known as a more than successful psychedelic neo thriller.Trance is a tough film to review because I felt so many things while watching it. There were times in which it was as immersive as any film I have seen yet this year. There were moments his typical laugh out loud/dark humor took center stage (a head half shot off by a shotgun holding a conversation with Simon is a big highlight.) Yet there are also times where Boyle’s daring choices at an off-hand narrative were its own worst enemy. The middle portion of Trance is especially cumbersome, and the intriguing premise that Boyle so brilliantly laid out in the beginning starts to drag its feet. Thankfully, it picks itself up in its final act and lays an exciting slap in the face type ending. The way Boyle pieces the Trance puzzle together, combined with his typically emotional and moody soundtrack, makes it a very good, but not Boyle-great, ride. Again though, like a drug, Trance will make you addicted enough to have an urge to see it again. So I guess in that way, Trance more than succeeds.
3.5 out of 5