Danny Boyle's Trance is all about mind games, but it doesn't quite live up to its grand ideas says Thomas Patrick
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson
MASTER of the combination genre film Danny Boyle is at it again with his first post-Olympic opening ceremony film Trance. One part psychological thriller, one part gangster heist, it even contains smatterings of action and body shock horror. The plot revolves around a young art house auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) who is part of a plot to steal Francisco Goya's masterpiece Witches In The Air. During the heist, things go wrong and Simon is struck on the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel) which causes him to suffer amnesia and he cannot remember forget where he has hidden the painting. Employing hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to open up his memories, Simon slowly begins to piece together what happened as well as unlocking some other, more startling memories from his past.
Fans of Boyle's previous work will notice more than a passing resemblance in tone to his first work Shallow Grave. Focusing on ideas of greed, human nature and the relationship between its three central protagonists, Trance goes a step further and, like Christopher Nolan's mind-bending masterpiece Inception, explores memory and our relationship to it and the pitfalls of trusting it. As the action unfolds it becomes less and less clear whether what we are seeing is the truth or just another recreation of one of the characters in the trance state. At first this is an interesting puzzle, but as the film drags on slightly it becomes more of a distracting nuisance than the intriguing piece of art it could have been.Boyle's keen eye for detail remains carefully in place and some striking visual shots from odd angles to help continue the dream state logic of the film. The ambient trance soundtrack from regular collaborator Rick Smith of Underworld provides further proof that other than Tarantino, no one picks better music for his films than Boyle and while the narrative may become a little overblown, all the elements for a classic film are in place. So why does it feel like a misstep from the man who providing made such masterpieces of modern cinema like as Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later?
Sadly, and strangely, it is the performances of two of the central characters that let Trance down most. James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel, two vastly talented actors in the right role seem like natural fits for Simon and Franck. One an out-of-his-depth gambling-addicted "normal" guy, the other an arrogant, charismatic French thief. Yet both give uneven and sometimes overblown performances that distract more than they engage. Thankfully, Rosario Dawson is on hand to give the standout performance as the enigmatic Elizabeth. It is a raw and challenging role that she grasps and runs with, outstripping her co-stars and grounding the action with some character, charm and engagement.
Slickly produced, stylishly gritty and sometimes gory, Trance could so easily have been placed into the category of Danny Boyle's finest work. The overblown nature of the combination of psychological thriller and heist film causes some problems, as does some of the acting, however, the biggest let-down is the sense that Boyle himself has already covered a lot of the themes before in previous work, and with a far greater quality. Shallow Grave hangs over Trance like a witch in Goya's painting and the inevitable comparison is not favourable to the new film. Still, even the best directors make the occasional mistake and if this is the worst of Danny Boyle, he's still better than most.
Review by Thomas Patrick of www.thatfilmguy.net where you'll find more reviews and film news