That is so meta …

Theatrical Release Date: 04/12/2013
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh, Mark Poltimore, Tuppence Middleton
Rated: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes


C’mon! Curb him!

With a track record like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle is someone for whom I keep my eye out. Seeing that he had Trance releasing in April, I was hopeful there’d be a bright light in the movie tunnel in the first half of the year.

The film sees James McAvoy needing to remember where a multi-million dollar painting ended up but unable to do so. A group of criminals, led by Vincent Cassel, is none too happy about this and eventually a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) is brought in to elicit the recollection of that memory. Violent and sexual hijinks ensue.

Unfortunately, the more I analyze what I’ve watched, the less enamored I become with the whole affair. My problems start with the main conceit of hypnosis. Just watching the trailer, I know that Boyle and company will attempt to pull some shenanigans mixing reality with the suggested state of our protagonist (James McAvoy). It’s almost akin to doing a time travel movie or having a character with the ability to see the future; the cheapest and easiest thing for a screenwriter to do in order find a resolution is to “twist” the action to meet their needs. That’s not to say you can’t do good and unexpected things with these elements. Even Slumdog Millionaire comes from a place of expected results but the intelligence and heart of it all make it work. Trance? Not so much.

Audiences used to piecing together story puzzles like this, either from similarly composed movies or the increasing number of TV shows attempting to be clever, should have all the major beats figured out relatively quickly. The last reveal has a deus ex machina slant to it and feels unsatisfying; not to mention how convenient and lucky scenarios end up being in the final scenes. In a way, this goes right to criticisms of Boyle’s up until Slumdog. His films start in an exciting fashion with a lot of promise but unravel in the third act. The blame here lies more so on the script but the director is far from without blame for going along with it.

The performances are all quite good but far from revelatory. McAvoy is almost exclusively drawing on his work in Wanted, so much so that I was almost waiting for him to bend a bullet around a pillar or something. Vincent Cassel plays yet another heavy, which he’s always been good at; his interactions with Dawson add another element which could have been interesting but ultimately amount to very little. Speaking of which, Rosario Dawson gives a lot of herself to the proceedings (i.e. a lot of full frontal nudity if you didn’t catch my drift) though much of her performance and the character itself is wildly inconsistent. As the script attempts to be clever, it means shifting the audience’s perception of her (more than anyone else) and rather than presenting a complex and nuanced character, it all comes out like there were two or three different people who all look like the drummer from Josie and the Pussycats (no, I’m not going to forget about that movie).

The toughest part of trying to sum up the film is knowing that Boyle and company are capable of much more. The plot unfolds without the tension or surprise necessary to make the concept work. Using the hypnosis gag almost forces disbelief and the film may have been better off simply being a mystery about a caper gone wrong. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, it reminded me quite a bit of the 1998 John Frankenheimer movie Ronin, starring Robert De Niro. Trance isn’t as good, so if you’re looking for a comparison try that, and it falls well in the middle of Boyle’s previous work, so there’s that too.

Frankly, I’m not sure who really should make a big effort to go out and see it. Sure, most things are done okay, and there’s one scene that takes place in McAvoy’s mind that really pops, but the overall result left me wanting more out of the collection of parts put on display. Part of it is a case of failing to meet expectations, the other is a general disdain for gimmicky setups. I’d like to be more positive about it as I was hopeful heading into the theater, but the more I think about Trance, the less I want to think about Trance. Fans of Boyle’s might just want to wait for the home market on this one.

3 out of 5