Release: Friday, April 5, 2013 (limited)
Danny Boyle has a new look in 2013: his latest entry Trance shimmers with style and oozes with color. It’s editing and transitions, intentionally disjointed and jarring, provide a moviegoing experience unlike any other so far this year. It is superbly acted, and the overarching plot is reminiscent of the gleeful mischief we experienced in The Thomas Crown Affair, if only because of the coveting of one seriously expensive painting.
Trance is a work of art itself. While it offers a relatively straightforward premise, Boyle’s direction ensures that the hunt for the painting will become anything but a simple case of hide-and-seek. The movie takes great pains in providing unforeseen twists, abstract concepts, and visual stimuli. Cleverly, it also refuses to offer a simple way out of all of this.
We begin with a high-bid auction in London, where Goya’s “Witches in the Air” painting has just sold for £27 million. Simon (James McAvoy) leads us off with an explanation as to how this museum handles the protection of precious items in “the event” of a robbery. He has the inside knowledge because he works for the building; he also has a keen interest in this particular painting. His slow, measured words quietly foreshadow a looming disaster: when a team of expert thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) are about to gain access to and abscond with the “Witches,” Simon suffers a blow to the head, rendering him unable to remember what became of the painting. It soon becomes clear Franck also does not possess it, and when torture and other forms of intimidation fail to produce answers from Simon, he enlists the professional help of a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson).
Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson)’s job is to open up Simon’s mind in the hopes of prying out an honest explanation from his subconscious. And even though we saw the rules bending in a similar fashion in 2010’s Inception, the Trance is nevertheless unique and possibly even more alluring. With each “session” Simon is forced into entering with Dr. Lamb a different part of his memory seems to be jarred loose by the hypnosis.
We are just as much in his brain as Dr. Lamb, and it’s intimate. It’s awkward. It’s moving, to some uncomfortable degree. Unless I also have some unusual vulnerability to hypnosis myself, I never felt completely at ease in my chair. Boyle’s direction is very effective in this department.
Where the film’s hypnotic state begins to lose effect — where the movie quite frankly becomes a little silly — is in its handling of the relationship aspect. I can’t say much, but talk about analyzing something to death! You’ll need to see what I’m talking about to fully make up your own mind, but the great flaw in Trance is it abandons even the rules its laid out for itself in the beginning. What was a search for the answer to the location of a missing painting evolves into a psychoanalysis of what might ultimately be described as a typical obsessive mind. Around the fifty-minute or hour-mark in the film, expect things to not make a whole lot of sense. This is not because you’re going crazy, or even that the story is dumb. Thanks to the frenetic editing in some places, it just becomes very difficult to follow along, like a conversation you’re having with someone who refuses to move their hand away from their mouth.
But much to its credit, Trance is trying something tricky. Manipulating visual effects is one thing; how an audience thinks and feels about the lead characters using the occasional slow-motion action sequence and extensive dialogue — dialogue that operates more as metaphor than practical relevance to the story — well, that’s quite the leap to the next level.
While it falls short of possessing a mostly coherent story, the story we get is pretty damn intriguing. Also, despite the characters being a mixed bag of sort-of-likable and simply tolerable, we feel for some of them. . . emphasis on the ‘some.’ Great acting does not necessarily equate to winning personalities, and this film is a role model in that way. It successfully blurs fantasy and reality together, even if success in this case is measured in how confused you become. Ultimately, it looks good and for an hour and forty minutes its a great dream.
And so it passes.
Recommendation: (I’m almost going to straight rip this off the Rotten Tomatoes summary page, because I can’t think of a better way to say it…but….) fans of Boyle will take to it pretty quickly. It’s an interesting, new head space to be in when you’re viewing this film and even if the payoff in the end is less than it should be, most of the film is thoroughly engaging and visually pleasing. In more ways than one.
Running Time: 101 mins.
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