Tuesday, August 27, 2013

FI: Trance

UK, 2013
Directed by Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle has long been one of our most kinetic filmmakers, though that sense of flash and motion has been put to "nobler" uses in recent years with award-winning films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. With Trance, Boyle seems to be returning to the grimier, smaller-scale material he used to visit in films like Shallow Grave or Trainspotting. Here, Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer with a gambling problem who teams up with Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his criminal organization to steal a valuable Goya painting. Only, for reasons he can't explain, Simon removes the painting from its frame before Franck can get it, and after a blow to the head, can no longer remember where he put it. Franck and Simon enlist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a Harley Street hypnotherapist, to try and recover the memory. Soon, the three are tied together in trying to unravel the mysteries of Simon's mind in a game of cat and mouse where everyone's motivations conflict and, as the clich√© goes, nothing is as it seems.

Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle shoot in a hyper-stylized, color saturated palette, with scenes resembling the giallo films of Dario Argento or Mario Bava in their use of colored light and limited tonal ranges. Locations and sets have a dreamlike quality, which isn't helped by their subsequent appearance in Simon's mind during hypnotherapy sessions. All of this combines to let us know we're on shaky ground, as far as the reality of what's on screen is concerned. Throughout, the script by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge twists and turns in an attempt to fool us and subvert our sympathies. With the clues they plant early on, we might come close to guessing some of the film's revelations on our own, though the ultimate direction the film takes seems forced and more than a little preposterous.

Even so, there's nothing too terribly wrong with Trance. It's entertaining enough while it's on, though it suffers in comparison to something like Inception, which played in mental landscapes without letting its twists and ambiguities feel like authorial interventions rather than organic parts of the story being told. I had some issues with the film's psychology and gender politics, and I'm not sure whether another viewing would clear those things up or make them stand out even more now that I know the end game. Still, all three leads do well with their problematic roles, with Cassel and Dawson coming off the best. It's not bad for a film made during Boyle's down time while directing the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, and I can only hope he keeps returning to smaller, nastier fare like this even as his global profile soars.

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