Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sleep, Little Baby

If there's only one thing you can say about Danny Boyle, it's that he refuses to be easily defined. The visually-distinctive director has been making films for almost thirty years, and unlike many artists who have been working for that long or longer (*cough* Spielberg *cough*), his work has never felt like a copy of his previous efforts or constricted by a lack of risk-taking. He's happy working in any genre, whether it be drama (Trainspotting), adventure (The Beach), horror (28 Days Later) or science fiction (Sunshine), never spiting a story because of where or how it takes place. And of course he has now broken through to mainstream audiences with his heavily lauded (and fairly lucrative) Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. Those movies engaged audiences, drove them to the theaters, and had them conversing with one another for weeks after they had finished watching.

Trance is not like either of those films. Instead, it's more of a throwback to Boyle's early methods of storytelling, and in more ways than one: it was actually an idea brought to him way back in 1994, after he had finished filming thriller Shallow Grave, by screenwriter Joe Ahearne. While he didn't take it on at the time, Ahearne did eventually turned the screenplay into a television movie in 2001. But Boyle never forgot the tale, and recently he finally pushed to get it made. And while it's certainly flown under the radar here in 2013, Boyle makes enough of an effort to ensure you should check it out in its inevitable DVD release.
In modern-day London, Simon (James McAvoy) has assisted a robbery crew in their theft of a priceless painting. But when the gang's leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) inspects their haul, he discovers that he only possesses an empty frame, the art itself having gone missing. Suspecting treachery on Simon's part, he attempts to torture the location of his prize out of the mild-mannered man, only to learn that Simon has no memory of hiding the painting due to a head wound he suffered in the heist. Desperate and angry, Franck hires the services of hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) in an effort to get Simon to remember. But when retrieving that memory becomes more difficult than intended, it will take all of Elizabeth's effort and all of Franck's patience to see this painting doesn't disappear forever.

As would any movie having to do with the human memory, Trance is definitely very complex. Much like Christopher Nolan's Inception, there are multiple layers of reality happening all at once, with nothing counted on to be as it seemingly appears. There are vast departures from that 2010 blockbuster however, not the least of which is that while Inception found itself quite bloated and unbelievable by the end, Trance's goals and machinations are far more simple. Character motivations are relatively simple, making them more easily sympathetic and understandable. What remains a nuisance, however, is the storytelling itself, with Boyle waving the camera around and moving between past, present, dream and reality with a madman's ambition. Sometimes it does work, but at others it's a bit too trippy to really be taken all that seriously.
At least the characters are interesting enough to keep us enthralled, even when the story gets a bit away from us. James McAvoy is an excellent, genre-defying actor who absolutely had to be top-notch for this movie to be good, and he passes that test with ease. As a performer, he has to do the most transforming, as the character we see at the end of Trance is a far cry from the one we are introduced to in the beginning. Rosario Dawson's Elizabeth is also intriguing, though marred by bland personality through most of the film. From moment one we're aware that something about her is off, but a good performance and excellent writing make sure we're never truly sure until Boyle is ready to let us in on the secret. Vincent Cassell is by far the weakest of the cast, his thick French accent unable to convey most proper emotions in English. However, as a standard thug/bad guy he remains effective, a violent foil to McAvoy's more timid protagonist.
But despite some clever trickery and some really good acting, there just isn't enough here to recommend Trance to the average movie-going public. Boyle has made some real head-turners in the past, and he certainly has enough twists here to keep the story from becoming stale and unwatchable. However, there's not enough intrigue to make it worth the ticket price, especially when the ending will leave you scratching your head in confusion and frustration. This is certainly an okay movie, just not one I would recommend going to the theater to see. Instead, check it out on DVD, where the minuscule budget, bare bones story, and derivative elements will play much better on a smaller screen. It's not bad, just not up to Danny Boyle's usual level of excellence.

1 comment:

Richard J. Marcej said...

Ha, I just posted my write-up about "Trance" today too.