I will say in advance, there's a lot lined up for this month and this summer, but first I figured why not start with some of the titles have been sitting on for the better part of a month, Which brings us to now.
In starting this, I will admit - I've still got gaps in what I've seen of Danny Boyle's filmography. I say this now just to clarify that, at least from what I've seen/read up on of his work, I like the fact he doesn't really seem to stick to a single genre. The man has been seemingly trying new things with every movie and the results have been quite good so far.
It was with this strength in mind that I was already interested on hearing about the movie Trance. The result was both very much in his style and also quite different from any other works I'd seen him do to this point.
The story starts off as a pretty straightforward thriller - James McAvoy works for an auction house that specializes in fine art. On the day of one of these auctions, a robbery goes down. At the time, we see Simon (McAvoy) carry out what is standard procedure for such events (a procedure that he recounts to the audience at the start of the movie in a pretty well edited sequence.) Unfortunately, at the last moment, despite warnings otherwise, Simon decides to be a hero and takes a head injury for his actions. Flash forward a few months - he's out of the hospital and praised as a hero, even though the painting he was supposed to protect from thieves remains missing. Then he gets a call...we find out early on (not much point calling this a spoiler, since you learn it within the first 20 minutes) that Simon was an inside man on the job. Unfortunately, that head injury has caused him to forget just where he hid the painting. As the group gets increasingly angry with Simon, convinced he's holding out on them (resulting in one brief but very uncomfortable torture scene), they come up with an idea. Their leader, Frank (played with a good mix of anger and pragmatism by Vincent Cassel,) decides to play a long shot - hypnotherapy to unlock the memories. So Simon is sent to Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, in one of her best roles to come along in a while) under the pretense of remembering a lost set of keys. She quickly gets wind something else is going on and soon inserts herself into the plans as an active participant. What follows... again, there's only so much I can go further into things without getting into spoilers, so I'll stop there.
"See this thing here? This is what is commonly known as a MacGuffin..."
In its narrative, the film plays with the idea of the malleability of memory. As Elizabeth leads the group further along into trying to retrace Simon's steps, questions of trust get raised. As we see much of the film told from the perspective of Simon, there's a degree of unreliability in his perspective, so we're left to not only suspect Franck and his team, but also Simon and Elizabeth. This is the kind of thing that, honestly, can backfire hard in a film. To Boyle's credit, when everything is revealed, his film manages to hold itself together fairly well. I won't say it's perfect, as there are a couple of logistic holes that arise when all the cards have been laid out, but in general it still manages to carry itself fairly well.
Alongside Boyle's direction, this is further helped by a fairly solid script by John Hodge and Joe Ahearne that keeps its overall setting fairly bare bones in order to avoid making the complicated reveals even worse, and by the editing by John Harris. The latter in particular is an asset in a film like this, particularly as the movie goes on and we're left wondering at the difference between real and fabricated. It manages to mesh the two seamlessly so one has to question each moment as they come. One of the moments that actually really manages to speak well for this is actually in one scene where we go in knowing it's a dream. In exploring one of the thieves' fears, we're treated to a nightmare that is incredibly visceral and actually becomes unsettling to watch as it goes on. The style helps deliver the narrative VERY well.
Picture: Employee of the Month.
Finally, the other element that helps keep this movie afloat where it could have otherwise gone awry would be the acting. Particularly in the case of the three principles. On the one hand, McAvoy and Cassel are both playing takes on roles they have each done before. On the other, the way they're handled within this film is actually done in such a way that it actually manages to avoid being typecasting, as the two each skew the expectations of their character types as the movie goes on. As the third in the trifecta, like I said above, Dawson delivers one of her better performances in recent years. While she definitely holds her own within a very dicey situation, particularly when dealing with Cassel, it never feels like she's been made superhuman within the film. She still has her faults, and Dawson works those in, but at the same time, she's also not a completely passive element in this story, and in many ways, is actually the main character.
In general, it does feel hard to really discuss both the pros and cons of this movie, since many of them do involve going into the story and some of its twists. I will admit I've done that for other films before, and will likely do it again in the future, but in a film like this, where to pull one thread eventually leads to unravelling the works, I feel like I'd be overstepping my boundaries by blowing the whole movie for you.
Without going into spoilers, I will acknowledge this isn't a film for everyone. It can be, as I said above, rather visceral and at some points graphic (I can see why some would argue the film seems to go overboard with it, though I admit I wasn't too put off.) If you can ride it and follow along with the ride Boyle and his team are willing to take you on, however, it may be one of the better mind-benders that's come out in recent years.
I could make a REALLY horrible joke about blowing minds here...but there are limits even to my dickishness.
Keep an eye out sometime in the next day or so. I plan to be announcing a new project for this summer that hopefully should go well.
...this is what optimism feels like? God, how do I kill it?
Till next time!