Some directors can become very genre-centric, or known for only one recurring idea that they implement in film after film. For some people this is great; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But for others it can become a bit of a drag, as every new film delivers the same basic premise. Look at Michael Bay – he’s maligned for his use of CGI and explosions in near-enough every film he’s put out in the past decade. Then you have directors who switch it up film after film to tackle different genres. Perhaps the most famous example of this right now is Quentin Tarantino – I make no secret of my fanboyism of his catalogue of films. Each of his films has been stunningly different. But having said that… I think there’s another director out there more worthy of the accolade of “most diverse director”. And that would be Danny Boyle.
Danny Boyle is the guy behind Transpotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but a handful. In there you have tales of drug addicts, a zombie apocalypse and the story of a guy who gets stuck under a boulder and gradually goes bonkers. Boyle isn’t afraid to tackle different genres. He’s also not afraid to tackle theatrics either, as he was the guy behind the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which many hailed as fantastic (me included). So this brings us to Trance – his latest full length film. A film that I put down as one of the 13 to watch in 2013. So does it live up to my lofty expectations?
First things first… I need to deal with the trailer for this film. It’s a trailer I’ve seen jammed in front of many other features recently. Honestly? The trailer is appalling. It actually reduced my hype levels for this film. A lot. It was disorientating, quite boring, and showed way too much narrative for my liking. It almost completely turned me off Trance. And I know some of you feel the same way about it too. Let me put this out there now – discard your thoughts from the trailer. The film is far better than those short teasers would have you believe.
Trance is a heist story. A heist story by way of hypnotherapy and mind-bending reality augmentation. At its core, Trance follows Simon (James McAvoy), who works at an arts’ auction house. Simon’s not playing by the rules. So when a £20 million+ painting rolls through the auction room and the building is raided by thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel)… well, Simon’s in on the act. It’s an inside job. The only trouble? James misplaces the painting following a blow to the head. Naturally, Franck and his group are not best pleased by this turn of events and try to force the answer out of Simon. When that doesn’t work, they resort to hypnosis by recruiting Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) – a therapist. The film then focuses on Elizabeth trying to extract these concealed memories from James’ head…
But that’s only scratching the surface of what this film offers. Whilst my little synopsis accurately covers the first third of the film, it all goes extremely far into left field and gets pretty damn trippy and mind-bending. Immediate thoughts would point towards Inception and Vanilla Sky as inspirations for this film, but even then you’re not really coming close. What Danny Boyle has managed to do is create a vivid world, filled with believable characters and added this bizarre hypnosis twist in a way that really works.
Having said that, the mind-bending sections of this film did actually lose me at one point. I wasn’t sure what I was watching. Was I in reality, or was I in a regression? Maybe this was the point of a certain 10 minute stretch in the latter half of the film, but either way I felt lost. This shouldn’t be the aim of a film – to lose the audience. At all other points in the film I knew exactly what was going on and what was unfolding, but there were definitely sections of “what the hell is happening?”
Now, we need to focus on the acting of the three core players in the film: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. As I mentioned in our Welcome To The Punch review, March is McAvoy season. Indeed, I actually saw him performing on-stage in London this past weekend as Macbeth. He was brilliant, if a little beardy and drooly. And Trance is another big outing for McAvoy. Arguably, Boyle has a good record of launching talent into the stratosphere. Just look at Cilian Murphy – a relative unknown when 28 Days Later was released. The same could actually be said of Ewan McGregor when he was selected for the role as lead in Trainspotting.
So, I actually hope that this gives McAvoy‘s career a massive boost. Not that he needs it, but I hope it does. Why? Because this is perhaps the best example I’ve seen of McAvoy‘s acting abilities. Trance really calls upon so many emotions from his character, James. I was sold on every facial tick, mannerism and emotion. A sublime performance. Similarly, Cassel ably plays out his role as the “bad guy” – a solid turn. Much praise has also been lauded on Rosario Dawson here, and it’s entirely merited. She’s an actress that’s already had some fine performances under her belt, but Boyle really brings out another side to her acting abilities, which is great to see.
The successful display of talent on show here is definitely down to Boyle‘s direction and Joe Ahearne and John Hodge‘s script. The film is anything but linear, but the characterisation is rich. One could argue that the film is not as well realised as some of Boyle‘s earlier works and indeed, that middle section got a bit too overwhelming, even for The Phage. There’s also an unexpected amount of gore and nudity (a heavy emphasis on pubic hair, or lack thereof). But then again, this is from the guy that had someone cut his arm off with a penknife and zombies that spewed blood at every turn, so perhaps it’s not that unexpected…
Trance is another resounding success for Danny Boyle. It has its flaws, it’s not perfect, but as a whole it works in a cohesive manner. It works not only because of Boyle‘s direction and an interesting script, but because of McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson. McAvoy in particular appears to be at the top of his game right now. The trailers for Trance may have dampened my enthusiasm for the film, but this was eradicated within the first 15 minutes. What prevails is an intriguing, thought-provoking film with more twists and turns than a helter-skelter. It’s definitely a film that demands to be seen more than once, that’s for sure.
So although Tarantino is probably at the forefront of your mind for taking on wildly different films nowadays, you’ve probably got to look to Danny Boyle for the truest example of this. His back catalogue includes rom-coms, drama, action and horror. Many of them being seminal examples of the genre. Where does Trance fit into this list? Well, it sits highly in his back catalogue. It may not be the shining example of a thriller in decades to come, but it’s one you definitely can’t predict. And who doesn’t love the unpredictable?