Film Review: Trance
If I were to compare Danny Boyle’s latest film Trance to any other, I would probably use Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction follow up, Jackie Brown. After creating films of quotable dialogue, effortless cool and realistic violence, Tarantino went all out on Jackie Brown, which featured such subtleties as a long segment of women in bikinis shooting various machine guns, and hundreds of uses of the word ‘fuck’. It was the first time Tarantino had tried for cool and not quite reached it, and it is long since considered one of his lesser works (although I myself don’t mind it). Sadly, that is exactly how I feel about Trance; it is a film that wants to be clever, stylish, and evocative, but mostly fails.
The plot is definitely a good read on paper: Art thief Simon (James McAvoy) betrays his fellow criminals, lead by Franck (Vincent Cassel) and hides a painting worth £27 million for himself. There’s just one problem; after a nasty head injury, Simon has amnesia and can’t remember where he hid it. After a nasty fingernail torture session, the gang of criminals contact hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who they believe will be able to delve into Simon’s mind and recover the missing details.
The early scenes are definitely the strongest, as the opening art heist is stylishly done and there’s some nice chemistry from McAvoy and Dawson. Sadly, this doesn’t last long. As Elizabeth becomes more and more involved in the gang’s interests, Trance becomes more and more far-fetched, with some silly twists and ideas. It doesn’t help that there isn’t really a moral compass for anyone. Who do we root for? Is it the smarmy gambler who betrayed the man who helped him out of his money problems, the gang of violent criminals, or the conniving therapist who only wants a share of the money?
As the leading man, James McAvoy is decent, but he doesn’t really give the full range needed for a character like Simon. He’s quite fun when introducing the features of a heist, and he can sleepwalk a man under pressure and fear, but, not to spoil the film, he gains more confidence later, and he can’t handle it. He looks too young, too friendly, to appear in a film as nasty and dark as this. It’s a solid performance, at least for most of the film, but it isn’t one of the great Danny Boyle performances; not a McGregor, Murphy or Franco. Rosario Dawson, meanwhile, is fairly solid with what she has been given, but her character feels very underwritten, and so most of the actions of her character just feel illogical.
On the other hand, Vincent Cassel is very badly miscast as the almost-villainous Franck. In the right hands, Franck could have been a great character, with the right combination of vague flamboyance and intensity (Michael Fassbender was originally cast, and the film could have been much more with his presence), but Cassel is just bad. His accent doesn’t seem to fit, his pronunciations often bizarre, and he never comes across as an intimidating presence. Considering most of the early plot is to do with Simon’s fear of Franck, Cassel really doesn’t give the role what it needs.
It’s fair to say Trance isn’t a boring film. With Boyle’s direction, a film can never be boring, and the camera is certainly hyperactive, with quick edits, fast dance music and a certain visual flare. At times, it almost feels like Boyle is making a film to please himself, with gratuitous nastiness and sex. Nearly every character goes nude and does it add to the plot? Not so much. When part of a film’s plot involves pubic hair, you know it’s certainly juvenile, and that is a fitting word for Trance. For an Oscar winning, critically lauded director, this just feels a bit cheap and childish, and doesn’t contain the right subtlety or depth. I could describe it as Inception as done by committee; replacing the dark character notes and incredible action with one dimensional characters, unrealistic twists and some horrific gore.
Speaking of twists, there is one big final twist in Trance which I obviously can’t spoil, but I will say one thing; it made me angry. After sitting through a fairly decent thriller, we get given a plot twist that is so ill fitting and out of character that I was annoyed they had the chutzpah to do it. If you don’t see it coming, it’s because there is no building up or foreshadowing; it’s just there.
There’s no denying Danny Boyle is a talent behind the camera, and has made some truly classic films; Trance just isn’t one of them. One of the few films where style completely gets in the way of substance, Trance is a nice looking film that fails to engage in characters or content, and piles on twist after twist until it becomes disappointing shambles.
By Harry Ford