At this point, I’d say an audience member really knows what to expect when they sit down to watch a movie by Danny Boyle. The filmmaker is as stylish as they come, and his new film Trance is no exception, that’s for sure…the thing is, this particular flick features one of the weakest screenplays he’s ever had to work with. Now, Boyle didn’t write it, but formerly frequent contributor John Hodge did (along with Joe Ahearne, who handled writing and directing duties on the 2001 TV movie version of this project), and it’s fair to have expected better. Boyle is having lots of fun here making a thriller that also floats about in the noir genre, but not much of it rubs off on the viewer.
James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Rosario Dawson turn in solid performances (with one of them doing better work than the other two), but Boyle has gotten stronger from his casts in the past as well. This is a very minor work for the director and almost seems like the sort of thing that isn’t worth his time. Regardless, this is his new flick and it’s only decent. Overly twisty yet not overly intelligent, and without a strong emotional center (or honestly a character to care strongly about, but more on that later), Trance is distracting enough to work sporadically, but mostly it’s just a visual exercise without writing strong enough to keep up with it.
Centered around the before, during, and after of an art heist in London, the film first introduces us to Simon (McAvoy), an employee at an auction house about to be robbed. Franck (Cassel) is the leader of the robbery, but Simon is in on it too, though tensions immediately arise and Simon winds up getting cracked over the head and losing part of his memory. This wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that Franck needs Simon to remember where he hid the painting they were after. In order to ascertain this information, he employs a therapist to help out. Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) catches the eye of both Franck and Simon, creating another level to the mistrust going all around, with her digging into Simon’s brain for the valuable information. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, as twist after twist begins getting layered on top of each other. That’s all well and good, but the material itself is rather pulpy and simplistic in and of itself, so these tricks just serve to distract more than anything else. Essentially, this is a B movie masquerading as a non science fiction version of Inception. Make of that what you will…
The main trio of actors keep things afloat, though they’re not on equal ground. James McAvoy continues to favor more violent fare of late, and gets to do something much different from normal for him. McAvoy is playing about as unreliable a narrator as possible here and he seems to relish the part. He’s not doing anything transcendent, but he’s definitely having a good time. Vincent Cassel has done something like this more than once before, so he’s a bit less impressive if for no other reason than familiarity. Cassel is far from bad, but he doesn’t inspire praise in the same way. When it comes to Rosario Dawson though, she’s turning in some of her best work to date. Heads and tails above Cassel and McAvoy, Dawson is the most sympathetic character we get here and the only one to really come close to having true dimension to her. I was actually impressed with her, and that doesn’t exactly happen all the time. The supporting players include the likes of Matt Cross, Mark Poltimore, Danny Sapani, and Wahab Sheikh.
Danny Boyle is his normal vibrant self as director here, with Anthony Dod Mantel providing solid cinematography, but everything is just rather superficial. The screenplay by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge is far more concerned with being twisty and having a big reveal or two than in making you care about the characters and their situation. Rosario Dawson overcomes that with her performance, but no one else can, not even Boyle with his direction. The script is really just something from a direct to video type release, just imbued with Boyle’s visual prowess. Those two sensibilities are at odds with each other the whole time, and while the first half of the movie is paced well and has a bit of intrigue, the second half plods along and lacks anything really satisfying. Overall it winds up feeling poorly paced and longer than the hour and 40 minute runtime that it is. A better job from the scribes (notably Hodge, who is capable of far better than this) would have made the difference here.
I can’t sit here and recommend Trance to you, though I do think it’s the type of flick you’re unlikely to hate, especially if you have a soft spot for twisty thrillers. Danny Boyle does fine work, but he’s let down by the writing of his scribes. The movie just winds up overstaying its welcome, so decide for yourself if this mixed bag is worth checking out or not. I’m inclined to keep my thumb down and say no, but I’d hardly fault you for wanting to see how it turns out anyway. Just keep your expectations on the lower end of the spectrum. Doing so will give you a better shot at enjoyment, or at least prepare you for less disappointment…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!