Although the following critique was initially intended for Inception, it must also apply here; “Just because a movie is complicated doesn’t make it good.” Danny Boyle’s Trance does a great job of integrating varying levels of consciousness to tell a pseudo-linear story, but will leave casual viewers in the dust.
Our story centers on Simon, played by James McAvoy. He works for an auction company, and on this day, they are auctioning off a rare and expensive painting. Word of the rarity of the painting has gotten out, and Franck, played by Vincent Cassel, is determined to take the painting for his own. Simon gets in the way, only to receive a severe blow to the head for his trouble. In the confusion, however, Simon was able to steal and stash the painting, only to have the memory of the act forcibly removed as a result of the aforementioned injury. Now, the only way to regain the memory and ascertain the location of the painting is through hypnotherapist Liz, played by Rosario Dawson. What unfolds is a story that happens to be both difficult to follow and yet easily predictable at the same time.
At the center of every film are the characters, and despite the story, all of them are very well done. The actors all do a great job with their respective roles. Dawson is very plausible in her part as a therapist; possessing a voice that is both alluring to demand attention and yet soothing enough that would allow such a profession. Cassel doesn’t quite get sufficient screen time to permit his character to get much deeper than ‘the mobster villain’, but there is still a depth there that is begging to be explored. Even Franck’s henchmen have distinct characteristics that set them apart from each other, which is really saying something to have henchmen with personalities.
What’s more, there isn’t anyone to hate in this movie. Antagonists and protagonists are greyed as the film progresses, almost forcing the audience to be indecisive as they find it difficult to know who to root for. There is much to be said for writing complex, likeable and intelligent characters without missing a beat, and the movie has it in spades. The story, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired.
Within the first few minutes, it’s easy to see how things are going to unfold. It is unfortunate because a legitimate twist would have been rather simplistic, or perhaps a lack of twist fake-out would have even been more appreciated. What’s more, the audience is denied a last minute catharsis as the last decision by a focal character is left ambiguous. Whether this is to leave the audience guessing; hoping to generate more word of mouth buzz about the film, or just to make it more appealing to offer different endings on the DVD is something only the film makers will ever know.
The cinematography in the film is actually quite stunning. As Simon is put under suggestion again and again, we are taken between flashbacks, suggestions, altered and varying tweaks in reality. Despite this being complicated and difficult to understand from a story-telling perspective, from an artistic perspective it is both fascinating and beautiful.
The final nod of respect for this movie comes from it actually earning its R-rating. There are a few films that actually push the bounds of what they can and cannot get away with, and this one does just that. There isn’t anything that is done that doesn’t violate the integrity of the story, but there aren’t things that aren’t going to jive with younger or unprepared audiences.
The plot is never contrived, although it is very convoluted and complicated. The development of the characters is both natural and complex, despite the story not affording all of them sufficient screen time to be properly flushed out. The movie definitely makes most of its rating, but never for the sake of shock or just because. Trance is a movie where people will try to find the flaws with it, but be almost completely disappointed at their inability to do so. Three stars out of four.
Watch the trailer here.