- James McAvoy
- Vincent Cassel
- Rosario Dawson
If you’ve seen even a few movies, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Danny Boyle film. Not one to be pinned down to any genre or market, Boyle is the auteur behind numerous mainstream hits and cult classics, including his biggest commercial success Slumdog Millionaire, classic drug addiction parable Trainspotting, zombie flicks 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, DiCaprio collaboration The Beach, survival docudrama 127 Hours, and the excellent modern Irish fairytale Millions. Boyle is blunt in his assessment that he makes films that appeal to him, cerebrally and emotionally. So when you go to see Trance, you can rest assured this is a project he felt genuine about making.
Trance is the story of Simon, an art expert working in an auction house, who devises a plan to steal a painting, “Witches in the Air,” by Francisco Goya, during its auction. The heist goes wrong, the thief sustains a head injury, and spends most of the film trying to unlock his memories of what happened and where the painting went. Rosario Dawson plays Elizabeth Lamb, the hypnotherapist who helps Simon unlock those memories, while Frank, a criminal played by Vincent Cassel, hounds him for the missing painting.
The setup allows for numerous scenes of hypnotism, hallucinations, paranoia, as well as plot twists and trippy Boyle story telling. Because so much of the intrigue depends on not having a solid footing in
reality, it’s difficult to criticize or even relate any events from the bulk of the story. The actors all do good work, and the majority of the film is infectiously compelling. Trance also belies it’s remarkably modest $20m budget with lavish visuals and style to spare. There’s an attention to detail in many ways, beyond the camera work. Sets and locations are beautiful to look at. Technology is effortlessly integrated into the characters’ lives, which requires either better storytelling, or good IT on the crew to make it look right. Even the painting seems carefully chosen. Witches float in the air with one helpless figure in their grip, while mortals cower below, shielding their view from the supernatural events hanging over them. We could interpret it as the different parts of Simon’s mind, conscious, subconscious, and damaged, wrestling with lost memories, hypnotism, and fear, for example.
But as we near the film’s big reveal, too many elements are left unaddressed. During the trippy scenes we learn of connections and back-story, but at the end, it isn’t made entirely clear which connections are real and which were imagined. Also, during the middle of the film, we don’t always know if what we are seeing is real or imagined – we’re seeing things from the point of view of the character. It’s okay to confuse us, but that misdirection must be explained by the end of the film.
It’s been suggested to me that a second viewing could help in understanding plot points I might have missed. The problem is not that I’m confused from a lack of explanation, I’m confused because of two very clear but contradicting explanations. That, and I just don’t care enough to sort it out. Trance resembles Boyle’s very early thriller Shallow Grave, as we start out with a certain level of human imperfection and then travel down a rabbit hole that just gets darker and uglier.
Die hard Boyle fans will enjoy Trance’s mind bending ride, as might others looking for a modest diversion. While it certainly isn’t boring, don’t expect a tidy explanation presented with a bow on it. And, if you’d rather enjoy a top tier example of the distinctive Boyle style in an uplifting, family friendly way, rent Millions.