Danny Boyle‘s Trance (Fox Searchlight, 4.5) is a tricky mind-fuck thriller set in London, but more precisely inside London apartments, office buildings, warehouses and parking garages and sometimes (but not that frequently) on London streets. Every frame of it is carefully chosen and thoughtful and given its proper emphasis, which is what you get when a major-league director like Boyle goes slumming with a genre piece about hypnosis and memory suppression and art thievery and compulsive gambling and obsessive madness…I could go on and on.
If nothing else the ending is clean and thoughtful, and for me this made it all come together. Trance‘s thematic view is that our lives largely consist of what we’ve chosen to remember and forget. Remember and cherish only the “good” stuff and your life will acquire a certain positivism and buoyancy, but will also feel a little bit sterile and perhaps fearful to some extent. But remember only the “bad” stuff and you’ll get sucked down into fatalism and a pit of existential fuck-all.
This, at least, is what I was left with and was thinking about on my way back to the parking garage. I don’t care if others see it or not. How many urban thrillers have anything to say about anything?
In the hands of 100 lesser directors Trance would feel a bit meh but with Boyle it has a certain burn-through quality. It doesn’t re-order or re-imagine the universe but it’s not a wank. And it has a kind of feisty, snarly propulsion by way of James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel, who play thieves involved in an art heist. And then there’s Rosario Dawson‘s assurance and intelligence as a hypnotist…I’m lying. Well, not “lying” but dodging as the visual element in Trance that got me more than anything else were Dawson’s nude scenes, or more precisely tiny snippets of love scenes between her and McAvoy. Okay, I’ve admitted it. I feel like an animal with hot steam pouring out of my nostrils, but at least an honest one.
In any event I was absorbed all the way through. Not blown away but definitely engaged. Sometimes films of this sort are such an irritating brain-tease you don’t know which end is up after 45 minutes or so, but I didn’t feel scuttled or abandoned by Boyle and his team (screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, dp Anthony Dod Mantle, editor Jon Harris). The twists and turns are always just ahead of you like a mechanical rabbit at the dog track, but at least you can see the rabbit and you know you’re at a dog track and not off in some wacko-world where nothing adds up.
The story is basically about McAvoy’s inability to remember where he left a stolen Goya painting called “Witches in the Air.” This is after Cassel and the gang (whom McAvoy, an auction-house employee, is secretly in league with) has stolen it as part of an elaborate inside job. McAvoy has gotten slammed in the head and hit by a car, and some portion of his memory has been jarred loose and fallen between the cracks.
At first Cassel and the other two or three gang members torture McAvoy, and then, when that doesn’t work, they take him to Dawson for some hypno-therapy in hopes that she might put him in touch with his recollection of the painting’s stash. But when Dawson realizes what’s up she tells Cassel she wants an equal share of the haul once the Goya has been found.
How it plays out is between you and the film, should you want to see it. My impression is that Boyle and friends did everything they could to make what is basically a show-and-tell “game” movie feel more substantial, or at least more thoughtful than this kind of film normally would be. And by my standards they’ve succeeded at that.
The only thing that bothered me is that I didn’t really believe that McAvoy’s character (i.e., “Simon”) would experience a total black-out about the painting’s whereabouts. Only a jabbering unhinged loon would be completely unable to remember something like this. The last time I can recall a guy being this thoroughly in the dark was when Gregory Peck couldn’t remember if he committed murder or not in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Spellbound (’45). My God, I just had a vision of Ingrid Bergman doing a full-frontal nude scene like Dawson’s…forget it. Didn’t mean to bring it up