Movie Review: ‘Trance’
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel
Plot: When a heist goes wrong, a gang of thieves uses hypnosis to figure out what really happened
James McAvoy plays an art auctioneer, who in the middle of an art heist, is knocked over the head and forgets what he did with the painting. He was in on it after all. To get to the bottom of his empty memories, the band of thieves he is working with, led by Vincent Cassel, visits a hypnotherapist, played by Rosario Dawson, and delve into the dream logic and unreliable narration of his broken mind.
“Convenient amnesia” is a cinema staple. At this point, they are beating a dead horse, and the poor horse has been dead for a really long time. The story is simple in how complex it is. You know there will be red herrings and misdirection, and you are just waiting for all the knots to get untied. You are basically just going for the ride, but director Danny Boyle does his best to to clean up the idea and make it fresh again. This comes down to how the story unfolds. It is told with a visual flare and an acting roster that we have come to expect from Danny Boyle.
The movie has a very neo-noir look to it. It implies the smoky, dark, seedy environments of an old-fashioned crime saga, but it is dressed with colorful neon lights and slick modern architecture with lots of blues and greys. The cinematography is intrusive, in a good way, circling the characters and getting up close and personal. It jump cuts in time in a way that the characters seem to notice and leaves them with a moment of confusion even though they are living in real time, and we are the ones experiencing it out of time. The hypnosis scenes are like the best parts of Inception and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas turning the movie into quite the trippy adventure.
The acting is also pretty incredible. James McAvoy is such a great protagonist. He starts off as a pretty calm and collected dude and becomes more and more emotionally troubled as the movie continues. In one scene, the hypnosis has him reliving 2 moments at once. So in real time he is angry, in another he is sad, and the other he is frightened. They are all intercut so perfectly they are essentially a demo reel of what McAvoy is capable of. Rosario Dawson also gives one of her finest performances. When pushed by the right director, she can do great things, but she all too often settles on just being ok. And we tend to forgive her because she is really hot (and full frontal nude in this one). This time around she definitely backs up the fact that she can truly act. The only problem is in one scene that goes on for far too long, Dawson essentially explains the whole backstory in a very dull tone, and after all is said and done, they are still playing the misdirection game so you start to wonder what the point was if it is still not the truth.
I have seen Vincent Cassel do much better than he does here. He basically plays a Bond villain type character. He is calm, cool, and sophisticated. He is also really great at what he does whether that be stealing, torturing, or leading a bunch of goons. The confidence he carries mirrors how good he is, and it is kind of cool to see him doubt himself more and more as the hypnosis clouds more than it reveals.
Trance is a B-story made with A-intentions, and I think it ultimately pays off.
What to Watch: The Usual Suspects, another heist gone wrong with an unreliable narrator.