5–18 April 2013; DCA
Danny Boyle has turned his hand to the heist genre for his latest release Trance. After his success in the horror genre with 28 Days Later (2002) and with a successful children’s film under his belt with Millions(2004), it seems appropriate that Boyle should attempt something new. What he has produced, however, is a misguided attempt at a gritty crime film.
With Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) writer John Hodge at the helm of Trance, it is difficult not to have preconceptions about the kind of rhetoric and violence that will feature in the film. This is the one element of Trance that delivers; James McAvoy’s character, Simon, is a quick witted, charming man, playing against Vincent Cassel’s volatile gangster, Franck. But at the heart of Trance’s problems is its plot; a convoluted criminal heist story with more twists than Inception.
The initial plot portrays Simon as a hero, preventing an important piece of artwork (Goya’s 1798 painting Witches in the Air”) from being stolen by Franck and his gang. But after a hit to the head Simon cannot remember what he did with the painting. Enter Rosario Dawson as Harley Street hypnotist Elizabeth, who tries to help Simon recover his memory. Elizabeth becomes entangled in the gang, thus becoming a central character with undisclosed motives. Boyle’s characters are well acted but there is not a great deal of depth that allows audiences to identify with any of them, or indeed to care what happens to any of them. Visually, the film is stunning; the backdrop of London, the scenes in the underground car park and at the docks is very reminiscent of film noir. Also, adding to the noir feel is the use of the voiceover from Simon, who narrates the first half of the story.
Simon becomes an unreliable narrator as the film reaches its climax, which is unhelpful as the film’s plot has already fallen apart by this point. The only effective outcome is that the audience is left puzzling over who the good guys and bad guys actually are. The only way to fully understand how the plot actually unfolds in reality, as opposed to in dreams and fantasy, is to re-watch the film. All the visual cues are there to tell the viewer that what they are seeing may not be reality but, awkwardly, there is not enough substance to warrant watching the film again. With Elizabeth’s final speech, which lasts minutes, the viewer is informed of what has actually being going on and you cannot help but feel that the scriptwriters had written themselves into a corner and picked on this device to neatly tie up any loose ends. The ending is over-dramatic and works almost too neatly. The film relies heavily upon clumsy metaphors and symbolism as plot devices; the constant references to art give the impression that Boyle is trying to influence the viewer’s opinion of the film as art. As always, Boyle makes excellent use of the soundtrack in the film, which redeems it slightly. All in all, Trance is far from Boyle’s best work but if you’re looking for a film to mess with your head, look no further.