Mark Reviews Movies



2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh, Mark Poltimore

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 4/5/13 (limited); 4/12/13 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 11, 2013

We have no idea what is real and what it simply a game being played with characters' imaginations until the very end of Trance, and even then, it's more than a bit unclear. Twisting narratives, such as the one the screenplay by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge employs, can thrive on uncertainty or, as is the case with this movie, become so enamored with the concept of ambiguity that the movie embraces the opaqueness for its own sake. There are plenty of levels—of reality and dreamscapes that sometimes seem quite genuine—to this tale of a hesitant art thief hindered by amnesia and aided by hypnosis; there are at least two levels too many.

Whatever intellectual and emotional connections we might have with the story or its characters are lost as layer after layer is peeled back—at times upon previous layers. The movie becomes less and less about its neat plot involving the use of hypnosis as a means to find an elusive MacGuffin and even a late turn that makes our protagonist into a far less sympathetic person—despite director Danny Boyle's attempts to see him as a tragic figure trapped by his own impulses—and more about how far the screenplay can take us down the rabbit hole, logic be damned.

It's not logic in the traditional sense that movie abandons by its third act, of course. Such a protest would be frivolous, as the movie exists in part in a world of a character's subconscious, where anything is possible (although most of those dreams are fairly ordinary, given that the movie needs to occasionally throw us with a few "It was all a dream" scenarios). The movie's main question, which doesn't even come into play until the events leading up to the finale, is how much of the story exists outside of the realm of reality. The logic the movie breaks, then, is its own. Perhaps it's simply a matter of me missing some structural clues (a possibility I'm perfectly willing to accept), but the end result of the game feels like a cheat.

The movie begins as a straightforward account of a caper. Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer at a prestigious London auction house, and speaking directly to the camera, he tells us how robberies of auctions have had to become more intricate to accommodate the increased security. He knows this because Simon is involved in such a plot to steal a Goya painting that sells for over £30 million.

The leader of the crew is Franck (Vincent Cassel), who has helped Simon out of his massive gambling debts, and Simon is the inside man. While the rest of the crew disables the security cameras and clears out the auditorium with smoke grenades, Simon brings the painting down to the drop box leading to a safe, where Franck, as per the plan, is waiting for him. Simon fights back and receives the butt of shotgun to his head for his troubles. He wakes up in the hospital and eventually returns home to his apartment, which has been ransacked.

Franck wants to see him. The painting was not in its case, and Simon has no recollection of where he put it after the blow to the head. He has lacunar amnesia, and after consulting a doctor, Frank decides to start Simon on hypnotherapy to bring the memory back. Simon chooses Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) from a lineup of therapists.

If the concept sounds a tad convoluted and maybe even a little trite, Boyle weaves the switches between the real world and Simon's travels into his subconscious with clarity. After the initial introduction to the process, the screenplay uses it in a way that quite ingeniously reveals plot details and, later, the true nature of some of its characters.

Some of those sequences are beautiful, like when Simon takes a road trip in his mind through a field of sunflowers with a woman (Tuppence Middleton) who guides him to a sanctuary where all the lost and stolen artwork of the past is displayed with reverence, and others are sparse, such as Simon watching a movie of the gap in his memory on a tablet computer. There's another scene of incredibly twisted humor in which Elizabeth, who has become a partner in the whole scheme, suggests that Simon might be more willing to uncovering the painting's location if he trusts the crew, which he is convinced—perhaps rightly—will kill him once they have the painting. Her plan is to give Simon the ability to make them retreat into their darkest fears by simply uttering a word; it only works on poor Nate (Danny Sapani), who shudders as his mind is stuck in a situation in which he is being buried alive.

Eventually, the plot goes into autopilot mode as betrayals and double-crosses unfold. It's when Trance begins exploring even further back into Simon's past that the movie becomes simultaneously intriguing and frustrating—intriguing in the ramifications of a potentially unstable and unreliable protagonist, frustrating in the way Ahearne and Hodge commence an out-of-left-field skepticism about everything that has come before it. The movie becomes something of a metaphysical joke with a punch line that falls flat because the setup omits a few vital points.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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