28 March 2013

TRANCE- Review

Danny Boyle seems to enjoy turning the tables between films. After Slumdog Millionaire was trumpeted as a feel-good hit, despite broaching poverty and child labour, to the tune of eight Oscars, the grisly but inspirational 127 Hours reminded us of who we were watching. Likewise, after politely declining honours from the Queen for his role in directing the Olympic opening ceremony last summer, he's made this little piece of work.

Trance is a labyrinthine psychological noir that starts with an art heist, and ends with a bang. Simon Newton works at an auction house that specialises in artworks of historical significance. A Goya painting goes for over £20 million, and seconds later, it vanishes in the midst of a daring heist. Simon is assaulted by one of the robbers, and the head trauma results in amnesia. When it turns out the robbers don't have the painting either, they turn to hypno-therapist Elizabeth to try and coax Simon's memories out, but everyone winds up getting a lot more than they bargained for.

We've seen a few neo-noir movies in our time, but while Trance is easy to pin down in genre terms, it's virtually impossible to get a handle on it on a first viewing. The script is written by John Hodge, from a story by Joe Ahearne, but even when it plays its last card, you're left stumbling out of the cinema trying to unpick the meaning. This is not to say that it's impenetrable, only that ambiguity naturally arises from the way in which the story is told- in many ways, this could be seen as Boyle's answer to Inception.

But while Inception was intellectually disorientating, made in the same kind of grounded, hyper-real style that Nolan is known for, Boyle is known for a different style altogether. He makes cinematic feasts, whipping the viewer into a tizzy with sights and sounds, and this lays a whole different dimension on top of Trance's already complex plot, which borrows themes and even a couple of plot points from Inception. Simon is described early on as "extremely susceptible" to suggestion, and that plays out in a way that's similar to the central goal of Nolan's characters.

However, Nolan never indulged in some of the nightmarish sights that arise here, when some of the characters are put into a trance state. Simon gets knocked on the head early on, and from the claustrophobic atmosphere, and the Dutch tilts employed by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, the whole film seems to feel that blow, from there on out. The disjointed and elliptical structure of the script turns the various reveals into more of a gradual recovery, seemingly placing us in Simon's mindset. All of this is underpinned by noir tropes, with James McAvoy's Simon, Rosario Dawson's Elizabeth and Vincent Cassel's coolly unhinged burglar, Franck, each representing familiar characters.

In that equation, Dawson would typically be the femme fatale, but Elizabeth's character is far more interesting than that, and she becomes the most arresting part of what is a pretty compelling mystery. It's less a "Who done it?" than a "What have they done?", which orbits around those three lead characters. McAvoy starts out as our main character, with Dawson as a benevolent therapist and Cassel as a fearsome enemy, but in 101 minutes, the focus changes and shifts, but always clings to that trinity of characters, unpicking the audacious opening heist scene by filling in histories and motivations and ultimately creating one big, beguiling picture.

With regard to the subject, Danny Boyle has always seemed fascinated by heists. Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and Millions all revolved around criminal activity and large amounts of money, but even his more recent films are about people in dire situations, beating the odds and snatching prosperity and happiness from the lowest point in their lives. That even comes through in Trance, but for the large part, the tone is far more reminiscent of his earliest work, than films like Slumdog Millionaire or 127 Hours were. As a result, it can be tough to sympathise with any of the characters until you have the full picture, and that's really what makes it difficult to grasp on a first viewing.

Trance is a suitably stylish and dizzyingly complicated thriller, from a director who clearly fancied a change of pace after his recent body of work. Rosario Dawson is the really exceptional presence on-screen, playing a character who could've come straight out of an exploitation movie, who is anything but exploited. As you'd expect from a Danny Boyle film, there's plenty to confound your understanding, but it's quite deliberately incoherent and dream-like. For some, there may come a point when it's difficult to separate the style from the storytelling, but it remains a compellingly nasty bit of mind-fuckery.

Trance is still showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Trance
, why not share your comments below? If this was up your alley, and you wanna see something even more unpredictable, Side Effects is still showing...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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