Trance: This Year’s Best Unpromoted Film?
Danny Boyle is a squirrelly director to try to pin down. In 1996 Trainspotting made me fear hard drugs and heroin in particular more deeply than anyone has ever feared anything, in the history of fear. 28 Days Later came along and was a brilliant “zombie” movie while simultaneously probably wrecking the zombie movie subgenre for years to come. Then, after a handful of great films across a wide variety of genres, the Academy finally backs a truck full of Oscars up to his front door for Slumdog Millionaire, and I just…I might be in the minority here, but I hated that movie. I made it through, but only via sheer force of will. 127 Hours was an incredible experience which threw me firmly back into Team Boyle, but it’s hard to deny that, compared to his other work, it felt like the product of someone who had tasted gold and wanted more. I started to long for the old days, a feeling that finally seeing Shallow Grave solidified. What I’m trying to say is that as a subscriber to the auteur director theory, Danny Boyle renders my belief structure difficult and uncertain at times. He maintains a strong visual style which I adore, but his project choices have such an element of randomness to them that I’m never quite sure how excited I should be about his next release. Anyone else occupying the same fence as I do would be well served to go out and grab a ticket to Boyle’s newest film, Trance.
Right up there is the excellent red-band trailer for Trance, take a couple minutes and check it out. There are previews for upcoming films I’ve probably seen half a dozen times in the theater, but this one doesn’t seem to be getting much play (I only saw it at an arthouse showing of Stoker). That’s a shame, because it’s a great trailer. The cinematography and overall flow of the movie is perfectly captured, that back-and-forth metronome beat between intriguing and horrific that made Trainspotting so effective. Every time you want to cringe and look away, Boyle pulls you back in with something beautiful (here that job goes primarily to Rosario Dawson), and your eyes are wide open for the next atrocity.
The premise that I managed to gather from my initial viewing of the above trailer was something like Inception-lite, and that ended up being more or less accurate. It’s a heist story involving hypnotism rather than dreams, to be precise, but the script definitely invites comparisons in that it leverages the untapped potential of the human mind in a way that is at once impossible and bizarrely logical. Like Inception, Trance does occasionally threaten to become muddled under the weight of its own concepts, but always pulls itself together again. Careful viewers will be rewarded rather than cheated, and the plot manages to navigate some tight corners without ever resorting to the dreaded Shyamalan Twist.
A large part of what makes the film work so well is its cast, which aside from a handful of minor supporting roles is a rather small one. I don’t want to call it typecasting because of the negative connotations there and the fact that it shortsells the ground covered by the principal actors here, but I can’t think of a better word at the moment. Their strengths, I suppose, are used at great length to help keep the viewer off-balance. Rosario Dawson is disarmingly pretty and inviting, even when her character is not. James McAvoy retains an inherent charm and likeability, even when he shouldn’t. And Vincent Cassel is intense and menacing, even when presenting no threat. Some people need to be told how they should feel about a character at all times, and Trance is particularly effective at abusing those expectations.
Trance won’t win any recognition from the Academy, but that low profile and its limited release are all the more reason for fans of Danny Boyle’s past work to actively seek this one out. The tsunami of summer blockbusters is just over the horizon, so if you want to see this one in the theater get out there while you still can.