Does the psychological thriller TRANCE prove itself a worthy affair, or does it need more time in therapy?
After a quick start, the movies of 2013 continue to impress, establishing themselves as some of the strongest in recent memory. From extraordinary action/dramas to enjoyable if predictable comedies and good horror, we've seen a diverse collection to be sure. And although audiences have largely stayed away, it certainly hasn't been due to a lack of quality. At the very edge of the commercial spectrum is Trance, a film that pushes about every boundary imaginable with well-crafted precision and a terrific sense of style.
When an art heist in London goes bad, the players gather to figure out why their inside man Simon (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class) hid the painting rather than delivering it. Front-man Franck (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) wants his painting, as its high price will pay off the high debt which the gambler Simon has incurred. And although the players decide that Simon should be hypnotized to force his memory back, one early mystery is established that takes its time in resolving: why did Simon strike his partner Franck during the heist, forcing Franck to knock Simon unconscious? That injury is deep, affecting Simon in more of a nightmare than he and Franck bargained for. Upon seeking treatment from the charming and brilliant hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, Sin City), Simon soon reveals a disturbing and dangerous layer to his personality. As Trance thunders to its inevitable climax, we must decide if Simon's life is real or imagined, and whether the results of his head injury have awakened more than just his memories.
If all of that sounds a little like a hybrid of Inception and The Thomas Crown Affair, don’t think for a minute you've seen the whole story. Bathed in a cinematic beauty few films this year have achieved, Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) creates a lush environment of odd closeups, well-appointed offices and apartments, and nightmarish interludes, thanks to long-time collaborator and Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. He's got an eye for pretty pictures, and the deep tones he and Boyle conceive are highly-stylized but extremely effective. That kind of filmmaking might lead some to wonder if it all comes at the cost of the story, but Trance is one of the best-written thrillers I've seen in awhile, thanks to Writer John Hodge (A Life Less Ordinary). He wraps the audience in a deep web of character development and murderous brutality, culminating in a reveal that few will see coming.
No script is effective without the right actors, and Boyle surrounds himself with a terrific rotation of McAvoy, Dawson, and Cassel. Each helps to build a love triangle that slowly unfolds into a nail-biting third act. McAvoy is at the top of his game here, content to play the severely disturbed Simon with a precision that he's quickly becoming known for. Deeply sensual and featuring a full frontal equal to the likes of Denzel Washington's Flight, this one should not be viewed with kids of any age. Some might claim that Dawson bearing all was unnecessary to the script, but in terms of the larger telling of the story, I believe its oddly-conceived arrival is perfectly in tune with this offering.
Trance isn't for everyone and will surely divide itself between lovers and haters - there's no in-between with this one. That's okay because the result is so deeply engrossing that it will lead to robust discussions afterwards. I love that aspect about film, and while I don't want that in everything I see, it's certainly welcomed here.
In a year filled with so many surprising films, Trance will challenge viewers in a way few will. When this sort of cinema is let loose upon the world, it's unknown what the result will be. Let's hope audiences flock to it, if for nothing else than to comment on one of the boldest and most unique in recent memory. Trance is rated R for nudity, language, and violent scenes of death, has a runtime of 101 minutes, and comes highly recommended.
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