Trance is the first film from Oscar winning Director Danny Boyle since he helmed the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Less than twelve months after performing the seemingly impossible and creating a ceremony for which Britain could be proud, Boyle is back to doing what he does best which is to make bloody good films. Trance is a thriller/drama starring James McAvoy as an art auctioneer who gets mixed up in a heist but subsequently loses his memory. With an impatient gang behind him lead by the always watchable Vincent Cassel, McAvoy’s Simon visits hypnotist Rosario Dawson to unlock his missing memory and rediscover the lost Goya painting.
I saw a retrospective interview with Danny Boyle recently in which his back catalogue was delved into. It suddenly dawned on me that he is one of my favourite directors as I’ve enjoyed every single one of the seven (of his nine) films I’ve seen. Additionally I’ve seen six of those seven more than once and I’d put the likes of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire in amongst my top 50 films of all time. Trance won’t be entering my top 50 (if I actually had one) and isn’t a film I will be in a rush to see again but I thought it was a taught, stylish and confusing thriller which had me gripped from start to finish.
Initially I was a little worried about how much I was going to be able to enjoy this movie. Not only were there a couple of loud, feet on seats types in front of me in the cinema but the opening ten minutes or so featured some of the most deafening music I’d heard in film. I can’t say whether it was deliberate or just my particular screening but it was evident that a lot of people were struggling with the volume of the electronic soundtrack saturating the room from the giant speakers all around us. After a few minutes the volume decreased slightly but it wasn’t very comfortable. If deliberate then perhaps this was meant to prepare the audience for the often uncomfortable viewing that it proceeded. There are occasional scenes of torture and gore which included an early finger nail sequence which I couldn’t watch. Aside from the very occasional gruesome scene the film’s tense atmosphere adds to the discomfort before some unsettling final moments.
All too often I watch a thriller where fifteen minutes in I’ve worked out a large part of the plot or an important twist. I’m pleased to report that I was much less successful at doing this during Trance. There was something within the opening few minutes which I predicted and I had my suspicions about other developments but I was never able to spot the plot’s meandering path before we arrived at it. Instantly this elevates the movie above those for which the twists and turns are too obvious and it meant that I was constantly gripped rather than simply riding the waves from A to B via a predictable stop off at C. I won’t go into the plot in detail but I will say that it is dense and rewarding and rarely goes down an avenue you were expecting. My opinion of characters altered several times and often I thought I worked out where we were going, indicated left, checked my mirrors and started turning the wheel only to find I was in fact turning right, driven by a new development. This is what a thriller should do to you.
Only the other day I was praising Boyle’s Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire in a review and one of my main points was the film’s style; it’s colour, look and design. Trance looks and feels completely different but it is obvious that the movie is from the same director as that film and 127 Hours. The film is effortlessly stylish which I always feel is a difficult thing to pull off in a London setting. We have grown accustomed to Michael Mann-esque stylish settings in the US but London is often portrayed as either gritty in the cockney gangster films or as though it’s always snowing and Big Ben is everywhere in romantic comedies. The TV show Hustle was the first time I was really wowed by London’s glamorous and stylish side and in recent times films have tried to replicate this. Trance comes on the back of The Sweeny and Welcome to the Punch, two films which I haven’t seen but attempted to capture the sheen of twenty-first century London. Trance pulls this off wonderfully and captures London as the glass skinned, reflecting metropolis which is it. Much of the plot takes place in the Docklands area which is now an expanse filled with artistically designed offices and apartments and exudes wealth and new money. It’s the perfect setting for a film like Trance.
Danny Boyle often performs a sort of juddering camera trick which instantly puts you into one of his films. It’s as if he somehow keeps half the frame still while jumping past other frames and is prevalent in all of his recent movies. His camera movement combined with editing is also fantastic here and the use of mirrors fractures and distorts characters in a pleasing and tantalising way. There is nothing wrong with the way the visuals are presented and Boyle once again shows what a master he is behind the camera. I do have a problem however with the soundtrack. Not only is it overly obtrusive early on but it just seems to throb throughout the entire movie, not in the background but as though it is engulfing everything which it is intended to compliment. There was nothing memorable about it and it simply existed, seemingly trying to envelop the rest of the movie.
The acting too was somewhere where the film fails to excel. James McAvoy is absolutely fine as the central character and I enjoyed his early voiceover very much. He doesn’t really do anything wrong but like the soundtrack he isn’t memorable. He manages the developments well and is always a watchable screen presence but I couldn’t help wonder how the film would have turned out with Boyle’s original casting of Michael Fassbender. I’d watch Vincent Cassel watching paint dry and I think he is a tremendous actor but as the sometimes villain of the piece he isn’t really a major force. He rarely comes to the foreground and never quite fits with his surroundings. Rosario Dawson glides through the film as though on a travelator of cloud. Her looks, like her profession are hypnotic and I was ordered to close my eyes by my girlfriend during a couple of her more ‘visually exciting’ scenes. She often carries the movie and is vital to piecing everything together. She maintained a poker face while being shrouded in mystery as the other actors flapped around her calm exterior.
Overall I really enjoyed Trance. It is incredibly stylish and attractive and the plot had me scratching my head. There is more than enough violence, sex and plot to satisfy everyone’s tastes and Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography beautifully compliments Danny Boyle’s distinctive style. The film falls down in a couple of places but kept me perplexed and entertained until the final frames and I’m glad to have Boyle back behind the camera again.
- Principle photography wrapped before the Olympics and post production began again in August 2012 which is how the film has come to the cinema so soon after Boyle's Olympic duties.
- Colin Firth was considered for the role of Frank, eventually given to Vincent Cassel.
- The film is loosely based on a 2001 TV show of the same name.