Thursday, 28 March 2013
Danny Boyle is fast assuming ‘national treasure’ status: he’s a warm spirited, generous interviewee, fantastically talented theatre director , and persuaded the Queen to play a role in his superb Olympic opening ceremony – before turning down the opportunity to become a knight of the realm. Here, he returns to his primary focus – movie making – with Trance, a London-set psychological crime caper starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel.
Cassel is Franck, a criminal mastermind intent on stealing a valuable Goya from an art auction. His man on the inside is Simon (McAvoy), a young man with serious gambling debts and some dubious connections. But their carefully plotted heist goes badly wrong, Simon sustains a serious bang on the head and with it the painting – and his memory – are gone. Desperate to retrieve the £27.5m artwork, Franck employs beautiful hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) to try and unlock the information stored deep in Simon’s subconscious. But does she have criminal intentions of her own? And can we trust any of the central protagonists?
The film opens brilliantly, with Simon’s laconic voiceover talking us through the reassuringly old school theft, culminating in a bizarre stand-off between he and Franck in which, for reasons unknown, a grinning Simon attacks his employer – only to end up unconscious and with blood oozing from a nasty head wound. Making his escape from the scene, Franck soon discovers that he’s been double crossed – the Goya is missing. What follows is a slick thriller which combines elements of Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre (especially Memento and Inception) with some typical gangster clichés – but cannot hold a candle to Nolan’s output.
This is a film with very little heart, thanks largely to its inability to scratch beneath its glossy surfaces. And boy is it glossy. Vast swathes of the action take place in polished, mirrored rooms filled with huge flat-screen televisions and monitors. Reflections play a huge part in the action, with less-than-subtle hints that what we see is only an illusion. Of course, this is wholly necessary in a film which concentrates so intently on the idea of memory (be it false or otherwise), but it actually becomes tiresome after a while.
Thankfully, there are more than enough twists and turns to keep the viewer’s interest, with ideas of perception and mind-control to the fore, and a morally ambiguous trio of central protagonists being constantly reassessed – just who should we be rooting for? Better acting performances might have convinced us to take sides earlier, but Cassel is particularly lame here – he’s not the same actor when he abandons his native French for English.
To her credit, it’s Dawson who performs most admirably. Her introduction is the film’s finest moment – a polished and superbly edited view of her ‘curing’ her patients’ myriad problems overlaid with a soothing and cleverly crafted voiceover. She quickly becomes the centre of the action – the beneficiary of her (now failed) relationship with Boyle, perhaps – but she proves that she’s more than capable of holding her own alongside bigger names .
As the film hurtles to its conclusion, the action becomes darker and is all the more interesting for it. It’s a shame Boyle didn’t explore the murkier recesses of his characters’ minds earlier, but the looping twists and revelations keep coming right to the movie’s climax. That, though, might have diluted the film’s sense of disposability – and this is Boyle and long-time collaborator John Hodge having fun. There seems to be no moral or message here – just a desire to entertain and toy with their audience. In that sense, Trance is a success. And we’ll forgive the film its obvious flaws because… well, because it’s a Danny Boyle film.