This blog has lain dormant for too long this year, so I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to get the reviews rolling again. I’m going to kick off with something a little different: a film review. I’ve been a film enthusiast for quite a while, but have always been a little nervous about reviewing movies – I imagined that I needed to know all about the ins-and-outs of cinematography to write something meaningful. But now I don’t think that’s true. I’ll do my best with the technical aspects, of course, but to be honest the average reader of this blog is (probably) not going to know any more about the jiggery-pokery of movie-making than I do. What I’ll try to offer, therefore, is the opinion of your average viewer, which I hope will be useful to others who approach films with a similar level of knowledge.
Well, let’s see how I do…
Dir. Danny Boyle
101 mins, cert 15
Danny Boyle’s latest offering, Trance, is a tense psychological thriller in which a heist-gone-wrong leads to a nightmarish journey into the inner mind of its protagonist. But while it’s certainly a stylish affair, Trance misses its mark when it comes to delivering a true emotional punch.
The film begins promisingly, with an exciting and well-paced introductory segment in which our protagonist Simon (James McAvoy) gets caught up in an attempted robbery at an auction house. As one of the staff, he is responsible for moving the item on sale – in this case, Francisco Goya’s Witches in the Air – to a safe place in such an event. But things swiftly go awry: Simon receives an amnesia-inducing blow the head while the painting vanishes from the hands of the auctioneers and the burglars both. The facts of its whereabouts are now only to be found in one place: Simon’s mind. But the criminals (led by Vincent Cassel as Franck) can’t break into his memories without help, and so Simon is sent to Harley Street hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in the hope that she will be able to help Simon remember what happened.
From hereon in things get more complicated, and the rest of the film unfolds in a dizzying array of twists and turns. As Boyle takes us in and out of the visions experienced by Simon under hypnosis, the boundary between the real and the imagined, memory and falsity, begin to blur. This is aided by the film’s overall aesthetic. Many of the settings are suffused in primary colours, light sliding over glass panels and reflecting off water, screens blaring light into darkened spaces, so that the movie gains a hallucinatory feel. Like Simon, whom we learn is particularly susceptible to hypnosis, the film also slips easily in and out of reality. It’s deliberately bewildering, with the audience slowly learning the truth along with Simon as the layers of suppression are gradually peeled back.
There are some real surprises in Trance, and Boyle does a good job of dropping hints and revealing hidden motives and alliances at just the right time to keep viewers on their toes. Tension is maintained throughout as we’re asked to constantly re-evaluate our expectations of the characters. The pace, too, despite slowing a little after the opening sequence, really begins to ramp up towards the end, and the movie wraps up with a satisfying, action-filled climax.
But although Boyle has offered a slick and visually arresting piece of cinema, it does have its flaws. Notably, it lacks a palpable emotional purchase for the viewer to get a hold of. This, partly, is a consequence of the film’s concept, for although Trance’s primary concern is with the inner world of its main character, the very fact that Simon’s memories and motives are revealed gradually means we cannot really connect with him. He doesn’t really know himself, and so the audience can’t truly understand him either – at least not until late on in the movie. Ironically, this journey into the recesses of the protagonist’s mind ends up preventing the film from mustering emotional depth until it is too late.
The other characters tend to drift on the periphery of the film. Although there are some nice moments with Elizabeth and Franck, the audience is hard-pressed to come away with an enduring impression of these characters as much more than pawns that have been cleverly manipulated around Boyle’s game-board. So while you will probably be interested to find out what’s going to happen, you probably won’t – when it comes right down to it – care.
This isn’t to fault the acting – though none of the performances are exactly mind-blowing, there aren’t any obvious missteps. McAvoy does well in capturing Simon’s spiralling emotions as he discovers more about himself and his memories are gradually unlocked. Cassel, too, works to give nuance to the sinister-but-suave Franck, while Dawson is a locus of cool control within the maelstrom.
To sum up my thoughts: Trance may not have you in thrall, but with its high concept plot, stylish atmosphere, and cool soundtrack, it will serve as an enjoyable diversion for fans of mind-bending thrillers.
A note on the certificate: Mileage varies when it comes to depictions of violence, sex, and nudity, but in this case I was genuinely surprised that the film had a 15 rating; I’d have thought 18 would be more appropriate (but then, what do I know, eh?). I personally didn’t have a problem with Trance’s more ‘shocking’ moments, but for those of a more sensitive bent I offer this warning: the moments of violence are sparse but can be quite disturbing, and on the nudity stakes there is female full-frontal. Just so’s you know!