‘Trance’ (2013) is a complicated Danny Boyle film.

29 Mar

Trance posterI love complicated movies; for me, an intentionally confusing film (Mulholland Drive, Inception et al) is by definition memorable, as your mind simply won’t let go until it’s done wrestling with the apparent inconsistencies. There is nothing quite like finally coming to a logical conclusion, and feeling like a superior example of humanity for having figured it out. However, much like a Rubik’s Cube, a fine line exists between a casual plaything and the perfectionist’s nightmare, and as such complex films enrage as much as they enamour. Which camp does the knotty Trance lie in?

In this remake of 2001’s movie of the same name, James McAvoy stars as Simon, a seemingly meek and unassuming fine arts dealer, who instantly informs us that theft at auctions is both alarmingly common and surprisingly easy. Upon giving us the guided tour of the various security protocols, and assuring us that no such robberies could possibly succeed, shit rather instantaneously goes down as the sale of a  $13,000,000 painting ends with guards being beaten up, cameras trashed and the audience gassed (the attendees at the auction, not us cinema-goers. That’d be an unexpected twist!). Simon gets knocked out and wakes up at the hospital. But where is the painting?

It’s next to impossible to have a worthwhile discussion about this movie without spoiling everything. It can be safely said, however, that nobody is being entirely honest about their true motives: Simon is a struggling amnesiac who can’t remember if he was an accomplice to the crime or not. The crooks (an assortment of nationalities, led by the vaguely Italian, kind of French but definitely European Franck (Vincent Cassel)), after ransacking his home, endeavour to convince him of his role in the scheme by enlisting a hypnotherapist, played by Rosario Dawson. However, she soon becomes wise to the situation, and demands a cut of the profits.

Playing the amnesia card is one of the eternal clichés of cinema, but Trance hides this particular narrative turkey with layers and layers of complexity. This film is great at handing you fake revelations, and then instantly tarnishing any conclusion you’ve just drawn by throwing even more twists and turns into the mix. By the end of it, you’ve been led so far down the rabbit hole that any and all specks of logical sunlight have vanished, and you’re left wallowing in the confusing darkness; I was mentally exhausted by the time the credits rolled.

This was my facial expression throughout. I was also wearing similar gloves...

This was my facial expression throughout. I was also wearing similar gloves…

Films like this rely fairly heavily on having a satisfying payoff at the end, and Trance doesn’t disappoint. Without giving anything away, it is miles ahead of the recent Side Effects while still refraining from being truly devastating; this is not the game-changer that Inception was. Hypnotherapy is a much realer and easier understood idea than either time travel or alternative dimensions, which are the two usual narrative putties which hold these movies together,  as it is an accepted medical practise. This grounds the film in the zone of believability, which adds realism while at the same time rendering it much less fun than something like 12 Monkeys.

The acting is great all round – you get the feeling early on that you can’t really trust any of the characters, and each one of them (save the goonish henchmen, who are devoid of all personality) leads you astray with fake smiles and convincing untruths at least twenty million times.  McAvoy is slowly proving himself to be able to carry a serious plot – this coupled with the recent Welcome to the Punch should solidify his career as someone other than an X-man. Kudos to director Danny Boyle for including some very nice camera shots, and whoever chose the music for this feature deserves mega recognition, as everything from tasteful orchestral flourishes to catchy avant-garde style indie gets an airing.

Rosario Dawson simply requires a special mention: she is amazing here, and this is easily her finest work to date. Playing the incredibly attractive yet far from brainless doctor, she steals the show. Again, without giving up the goods, her twist(s) ultimately prove to drive the plot forward with much more narrative strength than any of her male counterparts. This is the kind of film where she strips completely naked (with the 16’s rating, I was expecting ‘T&A’. But what I got was, what I have termed, ‘V, A, T’), but there is a significant, crucial and symbolic reason for doing so. She is leagues ahead of J-Lo in that Parker film of recent weeks.

While it’s no Jacob’s Ladder in terms of convolution derived from the reality/mentality divides being blurred, Trance remains a fascinatingly perplexing effort which demonstrates Boyle’s obvious knack for complex storytelling while simultaneously showing off his cinematographic flair. Gripping and intensely confusing, if that sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll lap this up.

Simon says: I noticed no trance music in this. Thank Christ.

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