In less qualified hands, Trance wouldn’t be this entertaining. The script for Danny Boyle’s newest quasi-thriller asks a lot from its audience. Suspending disbelief is one thing, but demolishing logic is another matter. In the end, the illogical dramatic ambitions hold back Boyle’s film from becoming another major addition to his body of work. Before logic is diminished, however, Trance is a gorgeous dream of a film that has the Slumdog Millionaire filmmaker unleashing every visual magic trick he has.
This nonlinear story calls for that bombastic Boyle approach. The central idea, which is a unique one for the genre, poses the question: what if you forgot what you stole? For the first two acts we see Simon (James McAvoy) dealing with that dilemma. Simon, a charming dweeb who has himself a wee bit of a gambling problem, went to both the right and wrong guy to help him out, Franck (Vince Cassel). After Franck pays off his debt, Simon must use his position at an auction house to assist him in stealing a painting. The robbery goes smoothly until Franck discovers he didn’t actually grab the painting and, due to memory loss, Simon doesn’t know why that is.
This where they enlist the help from Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth wants to give Franck and Simon what they both want…or at least that’s how her relationship with the two men starts. Elizabeth is the femme fatale of this mystery, pulling some strings the audience doesn’t see.
We ultimately learn everyone’s true motives, along with other answers to the burning questions, in the film’s final 20 minutes. On a thematic, character, and logistical level, that resolution lands with a thud. It’s been said Boyle’s movies tend to sputter out in the third act, but Trance is the first time that couldn’t be more true. Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s script turns from a taught and clever mind game to an overwrought exposition machine. They admirably attempt to add more dramatic weight to Simon and Elizabeth’s relationship, but they fall under their own ambition. Then, at the very end, after every question is answered, their script throws another redundant question at the audience which is played as a joke, despite previously showing dramatically heavy situations.
One of the reasons why the third act doesn’t outright sink is because, even when the script fails Boyle, he keeps his energy running on high. There isn’t a shot in this movie that isn’t bursting with life. Even the most simple, and arguably unnecessary, of shots are a thing of heightened beauty. Boyle may get ahead of himself every so often, but he’s enough of a showman to get away with an occasional indulgence. He’s also a fantastic manipulator. When watching the film’s final minutes play out they don’t initially feel like a train-crash of ideas. In fact, there are still scenes that are quite thrilling, and McAvoy’s performance remains as eye-catching as Boyle’s frenetic visuals. That conundrum equals a superior theatrical experience over a more well-rounded story.
It’ll be interesting to see how Trance holds up in a few years. Perhaps there’s more foreshadowing to the question Trance poses at the end and where Boyle ends up taking us than what we see at first glance. If that’s the case, Trance is better than I am giving it credit for, because if that third act is as mesmerizing as what came before, it’s one of Boyle’s best films. For the time being, it’s an above-the-cuff thriller with some of Boyle’s signature humor, Rick Smith’s bittersweet and thumping score, a fully-realized atmosphere and an ending which leaves much to be desired but doesn’t overshadow what came before it.
The Upside: McAvoy’s transformation; another killer Danny Boyle soundtrack; Vincent Cassel charms as a frustrated and empathetic gangster; the first two acts are so involving Trance still manages to be a good movie despite what follows; and, even when it tears itself apart, the 90 minute running time breezes by
The Downside: The last 20 minutes leaps off the rails; a tonally misguided ending; Rosario Dawson doesn’t manage the screen presence that Vincenet Cassell and James McAvoy do; who the hell is Simon talking to in the opening?
On the Side: Boyle plans on releasing a linear version of the film on Blu-Ray.