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TRANCE

★★

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THEATRICAL REVIEW
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By Jack Richardson
31st March 2013
In ‘Trance’, a naïve art auctioneer becomes indebted to a gang of thieves, helping them to steal a rare and valuable painting. Suffering a head injury during the robbery, Simon (James McAvoy) awakens with no memory of the painting’s location, or how it might be found. Fearing for his life, he turns to Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to help unlock the secrets in his head. The mind, however, is a complex and mysterious machine, and it’s not long before the layers of Simon’s reality – and his perception of truth, obsession, perfection, and passion – begin to transcend his waking moments and blur into madness...

‘Trance’ does its best to defy description at almost every turn. Cockney caper... Psycho thriller... Techno-noir... Love story? With director Danny Boyle at the helm, all bets are off. Few other filmmakers so consistently eschew conventional narrative paradigms as the mild-mannered Manchesterian, just as even fewer so readily bounce between genres and styles (often within the same picture). Never one to repeat himself, his filmography is a masterclass in eclecticism, but his predilection for subverting expectations (be it in anti-zombie horror ’28 Days Later’, the Dickensian light and shade of ‘Millions’, or ‘Slumdog Millionaire’s' balance of brutality and saccharine) is forever at the fore.

TRANCE - TRAILER

His latest film, ‘Trance’, continues to subvert. Remade from a 2001 telemovie, it’s difficult to tell if ‘Trance’ is best enjoyed well-versed in its premise or arriving at it entirely cold. Forewarned, and there are expectations – uninformed, and it overwhelms. Both are unsatisfying for numerous reasons. Behind the crash-zoom of the camera and Boyle’s unequalled matching of music to montage, lies a hysterical narrative that at once entices and repels – delivers and withholds – at almost every turn. It’s a difficult film to categorise, and seems so partly by design.

Divisive to its core, ‘Trance’ is both immensely entertainingly and maddeningly obtuse. It throws a cavalcade of ideas, influences, styles, and allusions at the screen and revels in what little sticks. It invites engagement with its mysteries (Simon’s opening sally to camera almost asks as much) but flaunts internal logic from scene to scene. Taken in its early stages, it has a kind of, "C’mon, go with it" charm: Joe Ahearne’s screenplay (co-written with John Hodges) has an impish knowingness about it, daring the audience to ponder its puzzles and deduce its twists and turns. But too quickly the film swings from playful to ponderous, deliberately inverting its secrets and denying engagement with its own narrative conceit. It’s a tricksy film (no doubt controversially so), and unlike films like ‘The Prestige’ and ‘Inception’, which play by consistent rules, ‘Trance’ is content to play solely by its own.

Divisive to its core, ‘Trance’ is both immensely entertainingly and maddeningly obtuse.

The audience’s transition from active to passive is abruptly jarring, as is the film’s tone. There are solid laughs to be had in the setup and execution: the gang of crims (led by Vincent Cassel, at full sleaze) are an affable bunch, played as Guy Richie-lite rogues at once murderous and mundane. McAvoy, as Simon, has a cheeky schoolboy charm; he’s an easy hero to root for, capable and slightly daft. There are shades of Hitchcock to the narrative of duplicity and flights of fancy (he’d no doubt approve of a prophetic Goya painting as the film’s raison d’MacGuffin), but the film veers, for better or worse, into very dark psychosexual territory – most damningly in its treatment of women, and the manifestation (and resolution) of sexual violence.

Elizabeth, the hypnotherapist with mysterious motives, is at the forefront of this confusion, and although it’s difficult to discuss exactly how this is (without fully disclosing the narrative twists), her character compounds an already complicated set of compromised morals. Sexuality and feminine fear is the bread and butter of film noir, and although ‘Trance’ flirts with many of noir’s conventions, its more lurid moments don’t entirely dispel a misjudged and underdeveloped character. Dawson, to her credit, executes an underwritten role with strength, but suffers from the film’s most obvious shortcomings: an insistence on Shyamalan-worthy twists, and a schizophrenic tone. There’s a minor thesis in her character and her role within the film, and bears deeper discussion elsewhere.

‘Trance’ is, at heart, a trashy film, almost exploitative in its content and execution, and although it sometimes leaves a sour taste, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Boyle is a talented director, and he’s populated his film with talented actors, bravura sequences of filmmaking magic, and a soundtrack to die for. ‘Trance’ is, in many ways, everything cinema should be: transportive, provocative, exhilarating, surprising. But it also asks questions it refuses to answer – questions that lead us to disturbing truths – and it fails, in so raising, to provide us a reason.

In true Boyle fashion, it subverts at every turn.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: 04/04/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 41m
CAST: James McAvoy - Simon
Rosario Dawson - Elizabeth Lamb
Vincent Cassel - Franck
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
WRITERS: Joe Ahearne
John Hodge
PRODUCERS: Danny Boyle
Christian Colson
SCORE: Rick Smith
www.trancethemovie.com
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