Danny Boyle has been one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers turning out work in the past 20 years (holy shit! It’s been that long?) Since his debut film, SHALLOW GRAVE, I have been hooked! I loved that movie! Then TRAINSPOTTING was amazing. I even liked the wacky A LIFE LESS ORDINARY. I missed THE BEACH, but it’s got a bad reputation. 28 DAYS LATER is a near-masterpiece. His serious work is also good, like 127 HOURS and the Oscar-winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. The only 2 I didn’t care for were MILLIONS and SUNSHINE. But when I saw the trailer for his latest, TRANCE, I immediately got excited as it appeared to be a return to the style of his earlier films.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because most of the fun watching it comes from not knowing what the fuck is happening. But here’s the basic setup. James McAvoy plays Simon, a gambler who has gotten mixed up with the mob due to being in debt. He works security at a posh auction house that sells million dollar paintings. Franck (Vincent Cassell) is the leader of a pack of robbers who attempt to steal a famous painting with the help of Simon (and by helping the crooks, Simon will clear his debt). But something goes wrong. Simon is struck on the head, but not before he stashes the painting. Franck and his gang try torturing Simon, but it’s not use. Because of the bump on his head, Simon doesn’t remember. This leads to desperate measures, so Franck takes Simon to a professional hypnotist played by Rosario Dawson. The rest of the film is a series of scenes inside Simon’s head as Rosario tries to find out what he did with the painting.
It may seem like I said too much, but seriously, all I described takes place during the first 20 minutes. There’s a lot more going on here. In order to appreciate or get enjoyment out of this film, you kind of have to like movies that fuck with the audience. Movies that you’re not sure what is real and what is dream. If you hated movies like FIGHT CLUB, then you’re not going to like this movie. But if you dig trippy films like this, buckle up, because you’re in for a hell of a ride.
The movie wastes no time as it begins right with the heist, even before the title presents itself. It’s fast, exciting, suspenseful and fun. Great way to start the flick. Simon is a likable character, so it’s easy to get into the film. I also loved Rosario’s character too. This could have easily been a generic female character, but the writing of her character is smart. And just when you think you know these characters, point of views are switched and perceptions are skewered. What’s great about TRANCE is that nothing is what it seems. By the end of the film, your mind will be exhausted because of all the crazy shit it puts the viewer through. If you don’t like being fucked with, you’ll hate it. But I love being shaken up by a film.
James McAvoy does a great job. I can easily see young a Ewan McGregor in this role, and most likely would have been when the film was originally supposed to be made in the mid-90’s, since Boyle used him in his first 3 films. But McAvoy (who I always thought was a cross between Ewan McGregor and Russell Crowe) makes a lasting impression, especially since it’s not a one-note character. Vincent Cassell, who is “usually” the sleazy villain, plays the sleazy villain again here. And he’s very good. But there’s more to his character than that, and as the movie goes on, Cassell gives some welcome dramatic weight to his role. My favorite performance comes from Dawson as the Hypnotist. I thought her character and performance was terrific. And if you think she’s hot, just wait until you see her…. fully naked! It’s a tough role to pull off but she adds a sense of realism to her role.
Danny Boyle is in top form here. As I suspected from the trailer, it’s very much like his first 2 films. It was nice seeing Boyle not “trying” to win an Oscar this time. He’s just trying to make a fun, trippy film. And he succeeds. There is inventivness in almost every shot as the camera pans and swirls around in every scene. The editing is punchy and precise. And the score by one of the dudes from the techno group Underworld makes the film pop. This movie is full of energy! My only complaint would be that the script tries a little too hard to confuse the audience. There are maybe one too many twists. But I have a feeling that with more viewings, this could get better. Or worse…. who knows?
Honestly, I don’t think there have been too many things to get excited about this year, but TRANCE is definitely one of the better movie in 2013. It’s not a perfect film, nor is it really trying to be. It’s a fun mindfuck, filled with great performances, a thumping soundtrack and trippy visuals. If that’s your bag, check it out! ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language.
– Running time: 1hr 41min.