Would you know it? Another opening, another show and another Q&A with the director afterwards (in the theater, not one on one). So, I got to listen to Danny Boyle talk a bit about the movie afterwards. He mentioned that in some six months or whatever, the DVD–he meant Blu-Ray–will put the movie into chronological order as a bonus feature. I suppose I’m not ruining it for you when I tell you that a movie called Trance (2013) isn’t in strict chronological order. I suspect that this realigned work would be a superior film. It would (or will) have serious tonal problems and probably stretch our belief to breaking point, but it would be more honest.
We begin with the heist. Simon (James McAvoy) works as a junior auctioneer in London. In order to pay a large gambling debt, he enlists the help of a serious French criminal, Franck (Vincent Cassel) (with his helpers Nate (Danny Sapani), Dominic (Matt Cross), and Riz (Wahab Sheikh)). Things don’t go badly and Simon double-crosses Franck & Co. but forgets where he put the loot (a Rembrandt worth ~$25 million). After they come to find Simon’s amnesia is not an act, they get a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), to help. She does help. Or is she really just going to help herself?
This isn’t exactly the movie that I was expecting, so I was basically spending most of the movie trying to square my perspective with the movie that it was. That was difficult because the movie is one of shifting and unsure perspective. Boyle said that he wanted this movie to be seductive and draw you in, which it does from the first instant. McAvoy delivers a fine monologue and gives you a look that may induce a mass trance here in the theater. For the next eighty minutes, the seduction is strong enough to bring you through the twists and turns until finally, the gravamen of the entire film is poured onto our lap like custard.
There are pieces here and there that might have allowed you to see some glimpse of what the resolution would be like–and surely there are some very bad viewers who would fit it all together in the first twenty minutes and think themselves quite clever for ruining their movie experience–but it didn’t fit for me, the tone of it. I didn’t know what things meant when they happened because Boyle hid the ball enough such that I, a very giving viewer, let it remain hidden until he finally pulled it out for a full viewing which was then the cue for me to act surprised. So, ultimately, the deeper drama (explained at the end) was a complete mystery to me while the thriller (misleading me all the way) was playing out, which undermined both the drama and the thriller.
This is not to say that it was not thoroughly entertaining because it was. The look (cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle) and pacing (editing by Jon Harris) were enough when paired with the lovely cast to keep you in your seat and blissful. Also, very good music from Rick Smith and well-selected original music. The production was excellent. And the story was very entertaining up until I was given the cipher to see what it was really about. The world of this movie is rife with interesting perspectives which are visualized perfectly until we’re unsure of whether we’re in the character’s mind or in reality. Comparisons with Inception (2010) or, more accurately, Shutter Island (2010) are too easy to miss. Trance, unlike those two films, doesn’t really live in the mental morass of its characters. We jump in and out of their minds and while we may be confused at points where we are, there’s never any real danger of being trapped in unreality. Possibly that’s a mistake, but ultimately it’s just not what this movie is about.
At this moment in time, I’m inclined to lay the blame at the feet of Rosario Dawson. Writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge are surely to blame for the abruptness of the ending–and, if I may say so, the rather overwrought catharsis that hadn’t really been invested in–but Dawson didn’t make it clear where she was coming from. There are, as I said earlier, drips and drabs, not very subtle hints, but they are vague and not directed. Is she strong or is she vulnerable? The way Dawson played it was as though her character was a consummate actor, keeping all of her roles in neat order. That was definitely a mistake. James McAvoy, on the other hand, was absolutely terrific because his character was neatly defined and his psychotic journey is not motivationally jumbled. Vincent Cassel I also liked quite a bit, though he, like Dawson, are made to play some rather forced curveballs.
This was a bit of a rough work when closely examined. Even unclosely examined, the ending was just this side of cheesy. But it’s worth seeing because it is entertaining, it is thrilling, and you might not have any of the same problems I had with it.
Three things came up in the Q&A that I thought were worthy of note. First, Boyle mentioned how he has to fashion his movies with the full knowledge that 95% of audience members are coming to see the actors. So, if they aren’t believable, we might as well have all stayed home. That’s quite true, but given what I’ve just written, I wonder whether he meant that as an apology or a recommendation for Trance. The second point was someone asking about his views on glorifying gun violence in the movie–and there is some brutal shooting–in light of events in the US and elsewhere. His response was that we need stories to be told and these events done for us. We want to see ourselves expressed, he said. Some people may be psychologically harmed by it or act on it, but the catharsis for the audience is valuable or necessary. In all the talks on violence and media, I think that this statement may be the best I’ve seen in that it doesn’t deny the possibility of a negative effect while giving a positive perspective I’ve never heard put in that particular way. The third thing was that the movie was shot in digital on the Alexa, which he suggested was something of a new standard (though I got the impression it was RED that was standard) and that new cameras coming out have resolution so good “you’re literally inside the pores” and that he feared for the live broadcasters bearing their imperfections to the world. That’s kind of interesting.
Also, can’t say that I care for the poster. There are too many lovely images in the movie to show only the distortion. But, I guess, that’s more expressive. I still don’t care for it.