There are many reasons why Danny Boyle is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, but it mostly comes down to the fact that Boyle is a bold and risk-taking director who's unafraid to try anything that catches his fancy. Considering the way he's crossed across multiple genres and told a wide variety of stories, it's nearly impossible to find anyone who will say that they've truly loved every film Boyle has ever made.
That, for me, is the sign of a terrific filmmaker. While some filmmakers find their niche' and stick with it, Boyle has repeatedly challenged himself and while many of his films may have common traits he's someone whose artistic integrity truly can't be questioned.
Trance is one of my least favorite of Boyle's films, yet that's not exactly because it's a bad film as it's simply because it's a film that never quite nails that perfect balance between artistry and substance. It's not, of course, that every film has to do so. Heck, I'm absolutely nutzoid about Terence Malick's brilliant new film To the Wonder, a film that serves far more as visual poetry and philosophical essay than it does anything resembling a traditional narrative film. The problem with Trance, at least for me, is that Boyle never really makes the film's purpose clear and the resulting motion picture often times feels twisty for the sake of being twisty rather than for the sake of the actual story.
There are going to be quite a few folks who embrace Trance, but that seems to be the way it always is with Boyle's films. You have the lovers and you have the haters, because when it comes down to it Boyle really doesn't make his films for mass consumption as much as occasionally it seems to work out that way.
Trance is, from a technical standpoint, a well made film. However, it's simply not a film for those who want to feel a strong emotional connection to their story and the characters. This is rather unique for Boyle, who is really quite good at exhibiting technical prowess while tugging at the heart strings as is accomplished with such films as Trainspotting, 127 Hours, Millions and Slumdog Millionaire. It works, at time quite beautifully, but perhaps not as much for me because I went into the film with the baggage of having seen every film Boyle has ever made.
Trance is a psychological thriller about an auctioneer (James McAvoy), a group off thieves led by the charismatic Franck (Vincent Cassel), Goya's "Witch's Flight" and a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) who may very well hold the key to it all. If you're confused, you should be.
It's pretty apparent early on in the film that we're in for some sort of crime. That's the way it always is when a film opens up with a fresh-faced seemingly good guy giving some explanation about security protocols while surrounded by goods we know to be extraordinarily valuable. Such is the case with Trance, in which it becomes easily apparent that "Witch's Flight" will go missing.
The ultimate question, and a question that travels through multiple twists and turns, is exactly what happened to the painting and who is responsible and what's going to happen.
Boyle keeps us guessing all the way through the script co-written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, but he keeps us guessing more with razzle dazzle than actual narrative storytelling. Every time you think you have a good sense of unfolding here, Boyle takes us down a different road. If you're up for that kind of filmmaking, you may very well have yourself a blast. If, however, you never care enough about the characters (as happened to me) that you feel like traveling the roads then you may find yourself staring at your watch about 2/3 of the way through the film.
If you've seen the poster for Trance, then you have a good idea of what to expect from the film. Trance feels like it's on permanent vibration,an off-balance fusion of sight and sound, color and shadow. Rick Smith's original music adds yet another layer of cinematic buzz while D.P. Anthony Dod Mantle's lensing weaves together with Jon Harris's editing to create jump cuts that make the whole thing feel more dreamy and mystical than true to life.
If you're in the mood for an intelligent thriller that will challenge your senses as well as your mind, then Trance may very well be exactly the film for you.