27 March 2013

Do As I Say II: Trance Review

I've seen most of Danny Boyle's films—hell, I even watched the London Olympics opening ceremony and I don't really go for all that shiz—but it's his more recent works, Slumdog and 127 Hours. A somewhat controversial opinion, I know, but I'm not proud. Boyle's latest film, Trance, is what he and the crew did "to keep [themselves] sane during the Olympics." A funny description of a film that's more than a little tricksy and has almost as many possible worlds and possible realities as Inception, perhaps. But I enjoyed Trance a great deal. It's slick, stylish and just good fun.

Danny Boyle introduces his new film Trance at a preview at the BFI

As the film opens, Simon (James McAvoy), a young auctioneer, tells us how difficult it is to steal a painting these days thanks to the evolutionary arms race between the auction houses and the thieves. The auction houses all have their drills, he says, and sure enough, when some hoodlums burst into Delancy's just after the hammer has fallen on a £27-million Goya painting, Simon puts his training to good use and attempts to stop hoodlum-in-chief Franck (Vincent Cassel) by tasering him, getting knocked out by Franck's gun in the process. It soon transpires that Simon may not be the have-a-go hero he initially seemed as we learn that he was working with Franck and the gang to steal the painting. The only trouble is that when Franck knocked him out, he developed amnesia and can't remember what he did with the painting.

The doctors don't offer any useful solutions, so Franck presents Simon with a list of hypnotherapists and tells him to pick one. No, not Paul McKenna. Oh, OK, I guess I'll go for Elizabeth—the one who looks like Rosario Dawson. Of course, Simon can't tell Elizabeth he needs her to help him recover a stolen painting, so having just about managed to register under a false name, he asks her to help him find his car keys, which she does remarkably quickly. And before you know it, she is a part of Team Hoodlum, as they all try to work out where the painting is.

But nothing is quite as it seems and it remains unclear who, if anyone, we can trust and what exactly is real and what is part of a dream, a flashback or a hypnosis-fuelled hallucination. Images and scenes we think we have already watched re-appear later on with different meanings and a different perspective. When you say that someone is an unreliable narrator, there is usually some sort of benchmark against which we can judge them. In Trance, this doesn't really happen, which I think makes it all the more interesting. I'm still not entirely sure exactly how it all fits together and why, but that's OK; my brain will keep thinking about it for a while.

Cassel is great as the very French counterpoint to McAvoy's nervous and nice (or is he?) Simon. He is by turns chilled out, spending half the film parading round his amazing apartment barely dressed, and bad-ass. I like McAvoy a lot, but although it may be due to the slippery nature of his character, he wasn't as convincing as I felt he needed to be.

When I reviewed Iain M. Banks's novel Surface Detail, I highlighted some of the similarities to Inception, as well as 127 Hours. After re-reading my post, some of the ideas behind Trance wouldn't be out of place in this book either. Trance is probably too action-packed and covers too many themes to be considered very deep, but doesn't claim to be particularly deep either. The soundtrack was fab and visually, it's a stunning film. A lot of the scenes were shot in my old manor, Marylebone, while Simon's high-rise apartment is supposed to be in the Docklands. They were shooting for two days directly outside my office in King's Cross and I even saw Vincent Cassel when I was heading out for a run, but it looked like the scenes were being shot indoors and I couldn't work out which ones they might have been.

I saw the film at a preview at the BFI last night and I thought Danny Boyle was going to be doing a Q&A at the end. Sadly, he only came to do a brief introduction, although the BFI did include a short interview with him in the programme notes. "Directors usually think they're giving too many clues, and everyone else says, 'No, you're not giving enough'," he says, before explaining that in Trance, a lot of the editing involved putting clues that had been removed back in. "The idea is that you shouldn't have to watch the film twice to understand it, but that if you do, it'll still make sense." I would like to watch Trance again at some point, and it's definitely well worth the cinema ticket price, even in central London.

1 comment:

  1. Oh goodie, someone to talk films with. Sadly I hated Trance. And I was so looking forward to it. I loved 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire. Trance was beautifully made, but it was heartless and gormless. Not even the wonderful James McEvoy redeemed it for me. Unlike Inception, another film full of levels and twists, there was no thread I could hold onto to keep me enough in the know that I could navigate the endless twists and delays. I gave up in the end because I ceased to care, either about the truth of the caper, or for the characters. And I found myself angry that a woman was shown so completely naked while the men were totally covered. I found that contrast exploitative. All in all a null point from me for this film despite it's stylish beauty.