Friday, May 10, 2013

Messy and Even Silly At Times, “Trance” Still Mesmerizes

Vincent Cassel is unsurprisingly good in Trance, and I won't hold the
weird spelling of his character name against him.
After going all prestige with Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle returns to his genre roots with Trance, a kinetic mind-bender that initially seems like a riff on heist films but ultimately establishes itself as a sexual thriller about hypnotherapy, memory suppression and female empowerment.

The film evokes Inception in its exploration of the subconscious and plays like a spiritual cousin of Side Effects (for my review, click here), this year’s other B-movie detour by an Oscar-winning director in which nothing is as it appears to be. However, despite loads of technical audacity, ace acting and undeniable watachability, Trance is mostly a mess of convoluted twists and silliness.

The action kicks off with a crackling monologue about art thievery from Simon (James McAvoy), a seemingly vanilla mid-level security handler at an auction house who orchestrates a daring heist at the behest of a gang headed up by the ruthless Franck (Vincent Cassel). Despite being in cahoots, Simon attempts to thwart Franck, resulting in a blow to the head that leaves him with memory loss, which proves a problem for Franck and his men once they realize Simon had somehow lifted and hidden the painting.

Enter Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist who says she can delve into the recesses of Simon’s mind and find the painting, provided Franck cuts her in on the ensuing payday. From there, things get increasingly disorienting as the movie becomes a bonkers fever dream.

To say much more would give away too much of the plot, but I will say that there’s more to Simon than he thinks and more to Elizabeth than she says. Meanwhile, Franck’s in the middle, piecing it all together, while realizing there may be more to him as well (not in the secret agenda/hidden twist kind of way, but rather the “I’m more than what I’ve done” kind of way).  
A fancy looking visual doubles as some character foreshadowing.
That's crafty.
Once all the twists and turns are revealed, some of the seeming plot holes make more sense, while others open up. The most problematic ones revolve around Franck, who conveniently decides to turn to hypnotherapy because the plot needs him too, and does not grow suspicious of Elizabeth until far too late in the game.
Held up to scrutiny, the film is somewhat frustrating, and the climax involves quite a lot of explanation to make sense of it all. Making matters worse are the laughably silly moments interspersed throughout, particularly those revolving around Simon’s predilection for shaved genitalia and a silly denouement built around a video message on a tablet.
Despite these issues, there’s plenty here to like. The three principles are all at the top of their game, which is pretty impressive given just how tricky these roles are. McAvoy stretches in unexpected ways, and Cassel brings just the right amount of danger and vulnerability to his part as he continues to prove he’s one of the more complicated “bad guys” in cinema today.
Meanwhile, Dawson shows what she can do given a meaty role after being relegated to nothing roles for most of her career. Much has been written about how brave her performance is given the amount of skin she bares, but to focus on that would undercut her hypnotic performance, which is simultaneously confident, vulnerable, intelligent, shifty, and smoldering.
It’s also worth reemphasizing that the movie is a complete gas, and Boyle’s direction deserves a great deal of the credit for that. This movie is far from perfect, but Boyle elevates it through a sheer force of talent. Man’s got style to burn, the way he shoots and cuts this thing makes for a mesmerizing, off-kilter experience. B