At first the movie seems to be telling us about the heist of a Goya painting, narrated by fine art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy). Soon we come to realize that our attractive leading man is not a reliable source of information. For one thing, he can’t remember where he stashed the stolen painting. We actually start to feel sympathy for his partner in crime and torturer (removing multiple finger nails does not reveal the location of the loot), sexily played by Vincent Cassel, who at least isn’t lying to us.
And we wonder just exactly what Rosario Dawson’s seductively powerful hypno-therapist is up to. She’s a literally nakedly manipulative femme fatale, a disturbing figure who taps into male fears about strong women. Happily the men are also often nude–which makes them doubly vulnerable. But Boyle is messing with us in this maze dreamscape: we often don’t know what is “real” and what is “trance.” People die, get their heads lopped in half, get shot in the penis–and come back to life like Wile E. Coyote.
“Trance” is stylish escapist fun that makes excellent use of reflective surfaces including the iPad, among other visual tricks–when it isn’t pummeling you into submission. Boyle isn’t one to sit back and let you feel calm and relaxed. Early reviews by trade critics (on the jump) claim that style trumps substance here. Our TOH! interview with Cassel is here.
And our video interview with Boyle is below. He talks about how this movie (and the staging of “Frankenstein”) brought welcome relief from the committee-style mounting of the London Olympics, and why he refused a knighthood. This movie is the “evil cousin” to his good-hearted, redemptive last few flicks, he says.
It’s the first time he’s put a woman at the center of one of his movies, which admittedly tend to be “boyish,” he admits. Boyle enjoys planting clues and warnings for the audience as to who and what they should believe. This movie “has a rebellious streak in it,” he says. He likes the film noir femme fatale premise: “Wouldn’t it be scary if a woman behaved even worse than the men?” In short, Boyle wants his films “to mesmerize people, give them a reason to come to the movies. That’s better than 3-D.”
All the same, the overriding impression is one of a game in
which the narrative tricks and amped-up pulse dominate over all other concerns.
It’s as if the challenge the filmmakers set for themselves was not so much to
tell a story as to discover how many clever and devious ways they could
disguise and hide what’s coming, to the point that the subject seems to serve
the style rather than the other way around.
Hypnotism is fair game in this brash, beyond-belief
psychothriller from director Danny Boyle, who seizes on a script co-written by
Joe Ahearne and longtime Boyle collaborator John Hodge as a chance to play
elaborate mind games with fans of his early work. A trippy variation on the
dream-within-a-dream movie, Boyle’s return-to-form crimer constantly challenges
what auds think they know, but neglects to establish why they should care.
The film is quite simply trying far too hard. It descends
into a cauldron of iffy acting and un-exciting plot convolutions. With such a
consciously exotic idea at the film’s heart, it may be obtuse to ask for
plausibility but there’s an atonal symphony of false notes in the drama and
performances. Often, stretches of dialogue will go past that sound as if they
have been turned into English using Google translation software.
Some will kick against the film’s unwillingness to have an
entirely sympathetic character, and few would argue that by the time it’s done,
it’s maybe gone a twist or two too far, stretching plausibility to absolute
breaking point. But it just about held together for us, the film proving to be
a head-spinning, psychologically rich take on the crime flick. Those who
anointed Boyle a national icon after the Olympics will likely be taken aback by
the sex and violence, but one senses he’s been having too much fun to notice.