Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Trance (2013) - Danny Boyle

“All the dark stuff that we couldn’t put into the Olympics has ended up here. We were finding a release for that instinct”, claims Boyle in a recent interview with Sight & Sound.  Trance is certainly the antithesis of the Olympic Opening Ceremony: a psychologically complex and intimate drama, that doesn’t shy away from violence.  It’s definitely not for family viewing.

It is, however, set in London, but not the London you’re expecting.  Free from landmarks, this metropolis has a futuristic feel with its clean, minimalist lines and metallic and glass surfaces.  Much of the film is shot from jaunty, expressionist angles through the glass surfaces, our view manipulated like refracted light.

This all serves the elaborate narrative.  Art heist films are nothing new – but this is far from your typical heist.  Simon (James McAvoy) works at an auction house and is hailed as a hero when he prevents criminal leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) from stealing a piece of art.  Suffering from amnesia after a blow to the head, Simon is soon caught up with the criminals as they take him to see hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) in the hope he can remember where the painting is hidden.  Yet nobody is quite as they seem, forcing us to question reality and who exactly is under the titular trance.  This isn’t really a heist film at all, but a twisted psychological thriller.

Cleverly shot, Trance is typical of Boyle’s style.  The script is peppered with British humour and doesn’t shy away from gore (though how much of it is real?).  There’s a real hypnotic rhythm to the editing that’s matched by the techno score from Underworld’s Rick Smith (who most famously composed the score for Trainspotting).  It might not be subtly used, but the music gradually and mesmerically crescendos in parallel with the narrative.  And the Olympic dream team returns with a credit song from Emeli Sande (who else?!) that’s very much a departure from her usual style.

Cassell isn’t quite dangerous enough as Franck and Dawson returns in a typically sensual role, whilst McAvoy provides a solid central performance though his turn at the end is a little sudden.  This, however, is more of a narrative problem.  Like a painting, the narrative slowly builds up its layers until it eventually reveals the full image.  Along the way, there are some leaps that require the audience to suspend their disbelief, with a sudden, slightly disappointing denouement and Inception-style open-end. 

Still, however plausible the central hypnotherapy concept, Trance is an intelligent and thrilling exploration into the power of the human mind.