Trance Review: The Arthouse Inception

Its ‘Tight-Arse Tuesday’ Down Under and I made full use of it by going to see Danny Boyle’s newest outing, TRANCE. Oh, boy! Oh, boy!

With the success of films such as Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours (and, of course, the London Olympics), one worries that Danny Boyle has strayed too far into the grandiose. Well, that was a rubbishy thought because in Trance, he gifts us with an expertly crafted, super slick, surreal yet cerebral thriller. And aside from being what I predict will be a critical triumph, it was a helluva entertaining movie.

So here’s the general gist. My beloved Robbie Turner from Atonement (James McAvoy) is Simon Newton, an art auctioneer who is also a crappy poker player.

Robbie can take me in the library any day.

Naughty Robbie owes a lot of serious people a lot of serious money. This is where Franck steps in – a sexy Frenchman played by Vincent Cassel who also happens to be a career criminal specialising in art theft. Franck settles all of Naughty Robbie’s debts and in return, he owes Franck a multimillion dollar piece of Goya artwork that Naughty Robbie’s auction house will soon sell. An elaborate inside job is executed at the auction house, but as Franck escapes, he sees that the Goya painting that Naughty Robbie slipped to him has been ripped from its frame. Robbie double-crossed him! Tsk, tsk, naughty boy.

‘Witches in the Air’ by Frederick Goya

Alors, putain!

Franck goes after him with a vengeance, but soon discovers that a blow to the head that Robbie sustained during the robbery has resulted in amnesia (Yes, amnesia. Like an episode of The Bold and The Beautiful. Just roll with it, okay?). To retrieve his memory, Franck sends him to a hypnotherapist – enter Dr Elizabeth Lamb. Now, I can’t type the name ‘Elizabeth Lamb’ without cringing , so we’re just going to refer to her as Rosario Dawson.

As the key to Robbie’s locked away memories, the clever Ms Dawson instigates a partnership with Franck and his three cronies that promises her an equal cut of the Goya painting’s profits (Did I not mention the three underlings before? That’s probably because after helping Franck with the art heist, they subsequently fade into 2D caricatures of low-class criminals as the movie progresses).

From here, Trance dives into a suspenseful yet stylish exploration of the entanglements that accompany the task of retrieving the lost Goya painting.

Trance was phenomenal. It was so much more than I expected (hint hint nudge nudge). Its a powerhouse of a film, and I strongly recommend an immediate viewing! Go! Now!

And thats where I’m going to leave it. If you haven’t watched the film, there are going to be heaps of spoilery spoilers ahead! So STOP, TURN AROUND, and HEAD TO THE NEAREST THEATRE. Its very, very worth it.

In the meantime, enjoy this fantastic trailer (which will hopefully serve as a buffer zone between safety and the point of no return [spoilery spoilers!] – you have been warned!):

For those clever folks who have already watched Trance, I just want to say – holy freaking amazeballs!

Danny Boyle is a freaking artist. I read in an interview somewhere recently where he said that he doesn’t want to be limited to one genre. Oh man, does he deliver on his word here. Trance is a microcosm of Danny Boyle’s career so far. The tone/genre (?) shifts so elegantly as the film unravels. From black comedy, to thriller-suspense, to surrealist dreamscape, to high drama, to adrenaline action, and even a snippet of cheeseball empowerment (a la Jennifer Lopez in Enough). Actually, the latter put me off slightly – the peppy inspirational pop music was pretty corny. That was a minor minor flaw in an otherwise splendid film, though.

I was especially impressed with the third act, as James McAvoy was pulled deeper and deeper into his own psyche in their pursuit of the Goya painting. The complex jumble of memories and dreams would’ve been completely incoherent had it not been for the editing talents of the filmmaker and his editor. They’ve presented the brain’s reaction under hypnosis into an electric montage-narrative where reality overlaps with fantasy. It became steadily less coherent and more confusing – slowly unhinge-ing the audience the way James McAvoy’s character was becoming unhinged. This is where the Inception comparisons come to mind. Where Christopher Nolan saw it necessary to portray the complexities of the brain through grand set pieces, Danny Boyle proves you can be just as effective with intimate scenes of darkened confusion.

Another thing I really admired was how completely unflinching the film was in terms of violence, sex, and nudity. Every scene was deployed without any glorification or repulsion and with a tasteful hand. It was always effective – every visual served to advance the plot. Take note, Michael / Zack / Quentin! Although, I have to say, Rosario Dawson is nude A LOT. Its like its written into her contract that every director must offer her the opportunity to share her excellent genetics on an 8m-high screen. Trance was really, uh, ‘unflinching’, with Ms Dawson in this area as well. (The Boyfriend: “Oh my god! I can see her labia!”)

We all remember what’s happening southward outside the frame. (Clever Ms Dawson in snooze-fest, Alexander)

Finally – just a minor nitpick. I really would’ve liked to see more rapport and character development in the three cronies. As I mentioned passive-aggressively before, they were completely under-used. Especially Nate, the hulking black dude. So what if Franck and Rosario decide to get naked and busy? Overreaction much? I can understand where the sense of betrayal comes from, but the film did a piss-poor job of building towards it. And then he decides he wants to rape her?! Umm, okay…? I would’ve liked to have seen some kind of tension between Nate and Franck. Perhaps Nate harbours an inferiority complex? I can’t help but think that someone like Giovanni Ribisi or Casey Affleck would’ve been good as Nate – someone who seems spidery and ambitious.

Alas! Let’s end on a high note. SERIOUSLY, how does James McAvoy make us like him when he plays a character whose defining characteristic is being pathetic? Simon Newton (Naughty Robbie) is weak – weak-minded, weak-willed, cowardly, and childish. Yet somehow, James McAvoy embodies all of those things and still manages to emanate a boyish charm that I can’t help but adore. It might have something to do with the fact that I just freaking LOVE James McAvoy (Seriously, I’ve loved him since that Sci Fi Channel version of Children of Dune where he plays Leto Atreides – I know, how embarrassing). He is just a masterclass in acting. He holds my sympathy even as he degenereates from protagonist to villain. Props to Rosario as well, but the surprise here for me was Vincent Cassel. I’ve always liked him but watching him transform himself from a menacing, calculating criminal into a sensitive victim? That man has some serious screen presence.

Anyway, very simply – go let Danny Boyle blow your mind-socks off. Trance is definitely worth your $15.

Bonus James McAvoy being all charming and Scottish and such:

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