Film Review: Trance (Fox; 2013)

By PETER McLOUGHLIN

Trance, the latest film from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting; Slumdog Millionaire), is a love-triangle psychological thriller that hits more than it misses:  it is beautifully shot – if a little over-saturated; well-acted, and the pace frantic (if anything it is too fast).

But to those half-positives there are some half-negatives: the plot has more twists than an advanced yoga class – and it is as difficult to follow as a result – but there are no satisfying after-effects, as the ending feels too contrived – too hastily-wrapped-up.  Also, due to the speed of the film, and the frequency of scene changes, the dialogue comes across often either stilted or clichéd.   However, Trance is a thriller, and the plot is based around the subjugation of the sub-conscious, so this pace and snappiness is arguably par for the course.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art dealer with a gambling problem, who makes a deal with mob boss Franck (Vincent Cassel) to steal a painting worth £20+ mil. Plans go predictably awry though, when McAvoy is knocked on the head and loses part of his memory – importantly, he forgets where he hid the expensive painting.  Enter hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who is tasked with delving into Simon’s subconscious to see if she can uncover the whereabouts of the lost treasure.

The film has a wonderfully contrasting image style – it uses varying two-tone colour palettes to create and insinuate internal mood and tone, while the direction balances close romantic intimacy with the raw and violent – in the short sex scenes there is a sensuality that is cleverly opposed by scenes of finger-nails being plucked off and people being shot in the face.  Whether it is a glorious long shot of a naked woman, or a decomposing corpse, Boyle ensures that everything is presented with the same stylized but candid eye.

McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson work the script and the constant good-guy, bad-guy aspects of their characters to the best of their ability.  The plot jumps so much that one is never quite sure which characters one can trust – if indeed any at all – and up until perhaps the final 30 minutes their performances are enough to keep the audience engaged.  Trance creates interesting oppositions to the usual clear-cut hero/anti-hero dynamic, but by the end, the plot has twisted so much that it becomes rather hard to care for – and therefore like – the characters.  Add to that the few clichéd segue way scenes, the frustrating ending and the unnecessary flashbacks (this is a familiar issue with thrillers – they tend to spoon-feed the obvious links from the beginning of the film to the end), and we have a film that frustrates in its narrative aspects as much as it pleases in its visual.

And as for the ending, it takes an annoying ‘Eternal Sunshine’ turn, quite like in Ruby Sparks, but whereas Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is written around the idea of memory-wiping, Trance plays with the idea of memory-wiping hypnotherapy in an unconvincing way.  The central conceit is stretched too thin and the film tries for a quirky, light-hearted ending that doesn’t fit with the tone of the whole.

Nevertheless, Trance is exciting, visually-arresting and well-acted.  As far as psychological thrillers go it is modern and interesting, but there are a number of failings to the film.  It is not so much a ‘good film,’ as it is a ‘good thriller,’ a well-made archetype of the genre.  As such, it contains many of the genre’s positive as well as negative tropes.  Worth a watch.

Trance is showing at Movie House cinemas now.

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