Director Danny Boyle has quite an impressive resume. Critically acclaimed films such as “Trainspotting”, “28 Days Later”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Shallow Grave” have made him a force to be reckoned with in the film industry. Yet, despite his impressive filmography, Boyle does have his misses. But one can never say that Boyle always falls into the area of Hollywood conventions. He always makes an attempt to be unconventional and different, and he does try to leave his viewers a feeling of satisfaction. His 2013 film “Trance” may not be one of his strongest outings, but Danny Boyle does manage to hypnotize his viewers in a trance. But as with any other film, one needs to wake up once the film is over…..
An art auctioneer named Simon Newton (James McAvoy, Wanted) is responsible for the safety of rare, expensive art pieces. In the event of a robbery, he is to transport the item into a safe place. But it seems like Simon has found himself mixed up with a group of robbers led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) as they believe that Simon knows the location of a painting after their botched heist. Simon had lost his memory during the incident and now the group seeks out the help of a hypno-therapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson). She is to unlock his memory and find where Simon had hidden the very valuable painting. But really, now who wants what and how?
The main thing that grabbed me with “Trance” is the way the story has been structured. It not only uses occasional narration and voice-overs, but rather it allowed the viewer to have a look inside the brain of the main protagonist. Once you start to think that you have reached the answer, the screenplay pulls back to reveal other developments in its plot. It was wise for the screenwriters to do this tug and tease kind of structure, and they do the transitions between each scene with such smooth and malleable manner. It was easy to get enticed with the film’s script; and admittedly I became very intrigued within 15 minutes of its runtime. The way the screenplay moved into its development felt very volatile and I was left anticipating just where the story was going to go. Boyle was able to pull the story into different directions, and he manages to keep everything interesting. It wasn’t that the film was moving at a brisk pace, but the developments came from one part to the next. Boyle was able to generate credible suspense in the film’s first sixty minutes, as the viewer is left wondering just where the characters’ motivations really were.
Boyle was able to command the film’s pace as if he was mimicking movements between reality and fantasy, and I was left wondering just how things were going to turn out. The film was intentionally shot to be a little incoherent as its jumping around became a major part of its story. There is a certain style that I appreciated as the screenplay does present very subtle clues, and yet, Boyle was able to keep the film from becoming baffling. I know, puzzlement was part of the film’s charms, but having a screenplay that is confusing is very different from inspiring bewilderment. Boyle does seem to remember the difference and this leads to a very polished cinematic achievement. The film is also quite violent once it establishes its footing, and it is very sexy. The scenes never felt cheap and they became significant parts of the screenplay. They served to give the characters the needed stances in the script.
The performances were also very good. Boyle always draws out the best from his performers and “Trance” is no different. McAvoy was very grounded in his role despite the fact that his character could easily be all over the place. He sells the story, and he felt unbelievably authentic that viewers would easily become invested in Simon’s story. Vincent Cassel may be a little underwritten into the script, but he gave a lot of dimensions to his character. Rosario Dawson does steal the show as Elizabeth. She was impossibly convincing as a hypno-therapist, and she was definitely able to enthrall the viewer with her realistic portrayal (her full frontal nudity scenes may be worth the price of admission alone). McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson combined to create marvelous chemistry together.
I really am not sure how I feel about the film’s third act (or the next 35 minutes). It started out as strong but the developments just did not feel as good in quality as the first two acts. I guess while I was still intrigued, several devices and plot development just did not feel inspired and they weren’t surprising at all. I am not sure, the script seemed to lose its way once it started developing the strong points into things that felt rather generic. The characters which were strong just took turns into clichés. It wasn’t that it was terrible, but the captivating flow and the unique qualities established and introduced reverted into something totally predictable. Yes, the film still continued with its smooth narrative flow, but with all its strong points, I guess the resolution just proved to be very lacking when compared to the rest of the film. It was set up to be much more and it was puzzling why it stopped taking risks in the third act.
“Trance” is quite a handsome film. It carried a lot of engaging camera shots and used a unique color palette that aided its narration. It was hypnotic and with the sound and editing, it was a complete visual experience. The soundtrack was also spot on, as it spoke a lot for the emotions in each scene. “Trance” is a pretty solid film. Despite the weaknesses in the third act and the finale that felt rather predictable, I was entertained by Boyle’s unique execution and the strong performances certainly made it worthwhile. It succeeds in inspiring bewilderment and it was indeed hypnotic. The steps it took in the third act made it lose a step, but it was absorbing as a whole. It was an artistic approach that I appreciated and a welcome break from Hollywood conventions. Recommended. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]