As previously noted, the films of Danny Boyle have long been among my favourite. Long before he directed an Oscar-winning spirit-lifter; long before he masterminded the joyous celebration of the Olympics opening ceremony … even before his second film, which was to become one of my favourites, I saw in his debut feature Shallow Grave an audacity, creativity and gift for story-telling which promised great things. I haven’t been disappointed.
I always approach his film’s with nervousness, though; I fear being let down, of having seen too much in too little in the past. I’m never completely let down, though. Clearly he’s not faultless; it would be hard to defend movies like A Life Less Ordinary or The Beach as masterpieces, but there’s always something interesting to enjoy. Since the overwhelming critical and commercial success of Slumdog Millionaire we might have expected a lurch towards culturally neutral awards fodder. He’s gone the other direction, though: first there was the small-scale, largely one-man focussed 127 Hours. It may have been portrayed as a triumph of the human spirit story; but it was still a nervous, jerky, edgy piece – hard to love, easy to admire and self-consciously distancing some of the audience he may have gained from the Oscar winner. Then came the Olympics; his opening ceremony a creative and critical barnstormer. Remarkably he chose to work on his next film in parallel with the preparations for the biggest show in history. Which creates some nervousness in the fan: how can you do justice to a second project when you’re giving so much energy to something unique and with such a high–profile?
There’s a simple answer, and Trance is it. In contrast to the Olympics project, this is a small, almost intimate piece with a trio of characters around whom everything revolves. Whereas the Opening Ceremony needed to have a mass appeal (though that didn’t stunt his daring), Trance again deliberately alienates some. In tone it’s most like Shallow Grave on a bigger budget; a plot-twisting thriller , complete with trips inside the twisted head of one of the lead characters, and a solution to the central mystery designed to offend anybody still left expecting a mass-market, easy to digest crowd-pleaser. It’s always on the edge of violence with a palpable sense of threat in the air. James McAvoy is Simon, an auctioneer of fine art who gets involved in the heist of a painting from his own auction house; Simon takes the painting during the heist, gets a blow to head for his troubles from one of the gang … and when he comes round and gets home from hospital, he comes home with an empty picture frame and inconvenient bout of amnesia as to where he’s hidden the painting. The gang want it back – and he wants to get it to them. They turn to a hypno-therapist played by Rosario Dawson; from there the plot spins layer after layer of revelation and manipulation of one by the other – the critical final reveal left to the last possible moment, in the honourable lineage of films like The Usual Suspects. As such it’s a high-octane, violent, dis-orienting cross-word puzzle of a film, only finally making sense at the last frame.
With subject-matter like amnesia and hypnotism, Boyle has licence to disorient and play with the viewer’s minds; and he does so to compelling effect. Inevitably it’s the sort of plot some won’t go with; the energetic direction will similarly turn some off. It’s about memory and the way we can use our memories as a way of controlling others; primarily, though, this is the film of someone taking all the parts of himself he couldn’t express on the biggest stage of them all and finding a creative, energetic outlet for them. It’s not going to be a major part of his life’s work; like 127 Hours, it’s smaller scale and appeal. His next film needs to be a step-up; and it’s interesting to see that it seems his next film will be revisiting the world of Trainspotting, adapting the follow-up novel to the original. That’s a good move. For now Trance is enough to keep me going.
I rated this movie 8/10 on imdb.com and 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com