A lot of Oscar winning director Danny Boyle’s works collapse in the third act. The pace slows noticeably, the tension is released and the audience is allowed to breathe. The problem with such pauses is that theyoften break the momentum built by the prior two acts is lost, making for a weaker viewing experience. Look at Trainspotting, as Renton attempts to turn his life around and the pace slows to a drudge. Or Sunshine, where the film shifts from saving the sun to being a bizarre alien-invasion film. Trance is where Boyle gets everything right and then some. It’s possibly best film of his career and will most likely go down as one of the best films of 2013. These are big calls admittedly, but then again such films as this only come around once a year at best (the last was arguably Shame). Where the film ends up from where it began is the stuff of amazing storytelling. It’s part unreliable narrator, part non-linear storyline but don’t compare it to the cheese ball productions that dog so many independent American films. Boyle knows what he’s doing and, for the most part, always has.
Simon (James McAvoy) is an art dealer. He is also heavily in debt from gambling losses. He seeks out help through a drug-dealing friend and meets Franck (Vincent Cassell). Franck stages an operation to rob the Goya painting Witches in the Air – which has just sold for $27m pounds – with Simon’s assistance so the debt will be cleared. Of course, things go haywire and from here it’s difficult to discuss the film without spoiling all of it; which, simultaneously, possibly spoils none of it, given the thick blur between reality and a hypnotist’s visions that the film converses throughout.
Though it questions it’s own reality it isn’t to be confused with the notion of distorted understanding as presented in Donnie Darko or Alice Through The Looking Glass – this is more of a Fight Club school of thought. And even then that feels inaccurate.
Rosario Dawson plays Elizabeth, the hypnotist selected by Simon to help return the lost memory. Through Elizabeth we’re taken on a walk through the stages of a psychological thriller film – revenge, fear, guns, pretty girls, horror, escape, et al – and this is all ticked off through the sessions of hypnosis she performs with various characters. There’s no running through dark woods or lengthy conversations with an old wise black woman. Boyle has managed to incorporate the standard thriller clichés in such a manner that it’s as if we’re witnessing them for the first time (one scene finds Simon living out his revenge fantasy without actually harming anyone).
Of note is the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. He’s a Boyle regular (and also shot the dirty, excellent Dredd) and the pairing has not worked better than right now. It has the appearance of the multi-coloured, fluorescent Punch Drunk Love and doesn’t merely serve cosmetic purposes.
Literally everything in this film succeeds. All the stars, notably Rosario Dawson, are in fine form and Boyle is back at his hyper-violent best. The script is a solid, well-edited work and has zero dull moments for you to rest between. Too many non-linear films end with a mess of a product that makes little sense and features too many things at once. The best part about Trance is that once you walk out of the theatre you’ll most likely want to attend the following screening to answer the myriad of questions it leaves you with. This is spectacular filmmaking that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Don’t miss it.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire