Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Written by: Joe Ahearne and John Hodge.
Starring: James McAvoy (Simon), Vincent Cassel (Franck), Rosario Dawson (Elizabeth), Danny Sapani (Nate), Matt Cross (Dominic), Wahab Sheikh (Riz).
Director Danny Boyle has pretty much admitted that he made Trance just to keep the creative juices flowing during the very long process he went through to direct the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. And Trance feels that way – a simple genre exercise by a talented director in between bigger projects. Sometimes, it’s these “simple genre films” directors make in between their more ambitious projects that turn out to be far more interesting than their more serious work. But that isn’t the case with Trance – a film that starts at ridiculous and simply goes downhill from there. You can tell in every frame of Trance that a talented director is behind the film. And you can tell in every scene, that you have three talented actors giving the movie their all. But Trance never really adds up to anything – and as the film hits the audience with one twist after another, I simply grew tired and bored with all the hyper-stylized action on the screen. A great twist ending is one you do not see coming – but should have. Think of a film like The Sixth Sense – I certainly never suspected the secret behind that movie as I watched it the first time, but when it hit, it made complete, logical sense. A film with a twist ending like Trance feels like a cheat – there is no possible way you can see the ending coming, because the film withholds too much information to ensure you don’t see the ending coming. Rather than that satisfying moment where you want to scream “Of course”, when you realize you’ve been fooled, the ending of Trance feels like you’ve had the rug pulled out from under you.
The movie stars James McAvoy as Simon – who works in an art gallery/auction house and opens the movie by explaining just how hard it is to steal priceless masterpieces these days, by walking you through the process of what they do to ensure thieves cannot steal them. And then, of course, a group of thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) do just that – steal a masterpiece by Goya that had just been sold at auction for over $25 million. But wait, there’s more – in the film’s first twist, Simon isn’t just the innocent guy he seems to be, who tried to save the painting, and gets hit on the head for his troubles – but he’s the groups inside man. And then there’s even more – when Franck opens the case that is supposed to contain the painting – all he finds is an empty frame. He’s obviously unhappy about this, and his gang is there to meet Simon when he returns from hospital – but Simon has conveniently forgotten what he did with the painting, and blames that bump on the head. So Franck decides the only way to figure out what happened, is to get Simon a hypnotist to unlock the memory from Simon’s brain – and Simon chooses Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) for just that purposes.
The movie is essentially a three character piece – yes, Franck has three henchmen in his employ, but they don’t really do anything. The film concentrates on the triangle that Simon, Franck and Elizabeth form – these three circle each other, in more ways than one, and almost on a scene to scene level, your opinion on who is trustworthy and who isn’t, who is playing who, and whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between, changes. If these types of role reversals are handled properly, they can be great fun to watch. But in Trance, I just felt like the movie was jerking me around, for the sake of jerking me around – and hence I grew restless and bored. McAvoy, Cassel and especially Dawson are all very good in the movie – in the case of Dawson it is even more impressive when you consider how much pseudo-intellectual and psychological claptrap she has to speak throughout the movie. But by the end of the movie, I just no longer cared what was happening – who was good and who wasn’t, and what precisely happened. Boyle does his best to disguise the shallowness of the movie with his mile and minute direction, and rapid fire editing, but it all ends up being sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Boyle had been on a bit of a role leading up to Trance. Following his big budget failure – The Beach (2000) – he had made several very good to great films in a row – 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004), Sunshine (2007 – probably my favorite of his films), the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and 127 Hours (2010). So, I guess he was overdue for a dud. Hopefully, with the Olympics behind, and his battery recharged with the trifle that is Trance, he’ll return to form next time out. Because Trance is one of the worst films Danny Boyle has ever directed.