Danny Boyle’s latest, TRANCE, is a mindfuck of epic proportions. Using ideas of suppressed memories and hypnotherapy, Boyle manages to weave a web of intrigue and mystery surrounding the loss of a stolen painting that is thrilling to uncover with the cameras, as we rack our brains trying to figure out who is who and what their true motivations are, but also who knows what and who might be operating under the power of suggestion. At times, there seems to be INCEPTION levels of hypnosis in play, further expanding the possibilities of what may actually be going on, both on and beneath the surface of what Boyle chooses to show us, creating a complex puzzle of sorts that Boyle carefully reveals one piece at a time much to our eager delight. We’re starving for meat, and Boyle revels in his position to satisfy with tiny bites along the way until he’s primed and ready to serve up the full steak for our devouring. TRANCE can get a little dense in its third act, stretching in its story’s scope way beyond what you may have originally perceived, requiring a lot of explanation to tie it all together, but it works well enough with the foundation Boyle had previously laid out for the film to make all your efforts in trying to guess the end game feel worthwhile.
James McAvoy plays Simon, an auctioneer at a fine art auction house, who is about to get caught in the middle of a robbery aimed at capturing Francisco de Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” All the protocols and procedures state that no piece of art is worth a human life and that no one should try to be a hero in the event of a theft attempt, but Simon steps out of turn during this particular hold-up, and is met with some blunt force trauma to the head for his insubordination. However, when the band of thieves, led by Franck (the always smooth Vincent Cassel), discover that the parcel they walked away from the auction house with does not contain their painting, they want answers as to where that expensive piece of art is. It’s too bad for them that the blow to Simon’s head has caused him some memory loss, with the key memory of where the painting is absolutely gone from his mind. So a hypnotherapist is brought in - Dr. Elizabeth Lamb, played quite well by Rosario Dawson - to aid Simon in trying to remember what he did with Goya’s work.
That’s the basic run of TRANCE, and, if that is all you know going into the film, the better off for you. TRANCE is the type of movie that you don’t want the finer details about ahead of time. That’s what fills Boyle’s toolbox here, as our enjoyment of TRANCE will come with things being and not being what they appear at just about all times. You’re left with a great deal of uncertainty as to what Boyle and Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s script has in store for you next, and that’s the way it should be as your own semblance of the truth changes with the progression of the story. You’re unsure as to who knows what, much like the characters are, allowing you the capacity to try solving this riddle in time with those in the movie attempting the same thing. And you’re given a trio of complicated people and their percolating love triangle to go along with for the ride. There are no black and white good guys and bad guys here... just lots of shades of grey, making for some rather strong performances from McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson in tip-toeing through the tangled webs of truths and falsities that really add a great deal of depth to their roles.
Using the hypnotherapy is a stroke of genius by Boyle, as it opens up a great deal of opportunity for the director to keep the mystery going for as long as he wants and also to unravel it at a very deliberate pace. It’s like he’s able to hypnotize you the viewer into looking a certain way at a specific character or in a particular direction, and that power of suggestion is what keeps you guessing throughout the film, further engaging you in TRANCE the deeper and deeper it goes. One misstep, and you can snap right out of what Boyle has waiting for you, but in taking you by the hand and carefully leading you where he wants you to go, locking you on the target of what happened to the painting, it enables him to come with plenty of surprises as you come to learn along the way that that one simple answer is merely a tiny blip on the radar of what the film really has going on.
TRANCE wastes no time in hooking you, and with McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson to follow on your mysterious journey, it’s hard to see how one could break away from the story the film tells. This is one you’ll try figuring out as best as you can, but Boyle has you in the palm of his hand until he so chooses to give you the key to it all... and that’s a great place to be to enjoy this type of film... so sit back and enjoy the ride, because Boyle knows exactly what the hell he is doing on this picture.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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