One of my most anticipated movies of the year, director Danny Boyle's Trance, may be one of the most disappointing movies that you see this year. Following a fantastic run of films that included back-to-back Best Picture nominees Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, it almost feels like Trance is NOT a Boyle film, but someone who admires him. On every grounds, it is a mess and is more likely an excuse to experiment visually than anything else. Even then, Trance doesn't feel like a film by a master, but just a collection of images meant to make you have a head rush. Unfortunately, not even that is achieved.
From the opening, something feels amiss. For starters, the film uses a narrative device through Simon (James McAvoy) that is quickly dropped. By talking straight into the camera, he turns an art gallery robbery into an artistic statement. This wouldn't so much be the issue if everything surrounding it just didn't click. Composer Rick Smith treats the bank robbery as a chance to pipe in rave music that doesn't so much intensify action, but just makes it feel like music bursting from the room next door. Tonally, it doesn't feel right and is an unfortunate sign of things to come.
After the bank robbery, Simon goes into hypnotherapy to remember something. Initially, it is his keys, but it evolves into a myriad of other problems. Thanks to the hypnotherapist Elizabeth, we now get a sense of who Simon is as a person. Through a series of events, Elizabeth tries to tinker with his brain. All the while, the surrounding visuals become more and more convoluted. While it is probably meant to ensue a sense of subconscious, it comes across more as obnoxious after awhile. Boyle seems more fascinating on shooting interesting imagery here, often in a multi-bright colored room or through a prism.
It doesn't help that the central story doesn't have much sustainability. While everything prior to the hypnotherapy is forgivable exposition, everything after is just a mess. Along with visuals that create the wrong kind of head rush, the story makes less and less sense. Much like Inception, Trance chooses to explore subconscious thought with a vague narrative structure without informing the audience. The main difference between Trance and the Christopher Nolan film is that he distinguishes it well enough that you understand the different realms. Here, they all blur together and at times it isn't entirely sure if they're in hypnotherapy or Simon's brain.
This only makes things more complicated when you add in a romance between Elizabeth, Simon, and his compatriot Franck (Vincent Cassell). While it is established as a seductive act to retrieve knowledge, it begins to lose stakes fast. For starters, the lack of definition on what we're seeing makes things more distracting than interesting and makes the stakes feel nonexistent. In this film, it seems like Franck appears several times in ways that should feel inaccurate. There is little consistency and the logic requests too many large leaps.
The biggest problem may lie in how this film came to be. Danny Boyle filmed this before taking on the London Olympics last year. In that time, he also directed a stage version of Frankenstein. The man's been pretty busy. It is unfortunate that he waited until after all of this to finally edit it together and produce a product that clearly feels disjointed. It is great to see him back trying vastly intriguing visuals, but the inconsistent mindset is probably heavily in charge for why this film doesn't work to the level that it does. Also, the cinematography is just too dark. While there are plenty of bright colors throughout, this essentially is ruined by not properly lighting the actors and just making everything look a tad bit ugly.
Another interesting note is that it was co-written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge. While Hodge has worked with Boyle before on films like Trainspotting and The Beach, Ahearne is a first time collaborator who also contributed work to Doctor Who in 2005. While your opinions on Hodge's films may correlate to how you perceive Trance, what is more interesting about Ahearne is that he has done this before. What is appalling is that Trance does not receive a "based on" credit. In 2001, Ahearne wrote and directed a film called Trance that has the exact same plot. Just a stray observation that I feel is reflective of how much the final product overlooks.
The performances are fine, though the cinematography and ghastly music just make everything fail at an uncomfortable level. Nothing really makes sense, and it isn't entirely Rosario Dawson's fault, even though she comes across as the most troubling character. Established as a romantic lead, there is little belief that she is anything but. Vincent Cassell, as poorly formed as his character turns out, is probably the most versatile of the cast. His angry guy persona really helps to deliver some saving grace to the film's troubling plot and adds a nice sense of fun. Otherwise, everything is too serious and literally too dark to really get much out of Trance.
I personally hope that Trance's failure is more because of Boyle's issues involving time management than a once great director finally falling. Even for Boyle fans, I have trouble recommending this film, as it doesn't even feel like his work. Where 127 Hours was one of the most gorgeous movies that I have seen, this may be one of the uglier. An odd juxtaposition. Either way, Trance comes off as a cheap, LSD-laced knock-off of Inception and reminds us just how hard it is to make movies that go inside the mind.
While it isn't entirely unpredictable, you know what I am about to say. This movie has no shot at an Oscar. It just isn't cohesive enough to even earn credibility for effort. The film is an unfortunate mess that reflects Boyle at his worst, though it may not be the worst film he has made. This serves almost more as an experimental reel for a future project and not a film. One can only hope that is what this film's excuse is.
Is Trance better than I make it out to be? Is Danny Boyle going to come back stronger next time? Will he repay James McAvoy, who wasn't necessarily bad in this but terribly misused?