Trance


Year 1941

James McAvoy as  Simon
Vincent Cassel as Franck
Rosario Dawson   as Elizabeth Lamb  
 
Director - Danny Boyle
Screenwriters - Joe Ahearne
  - John Hodge

Trance was a delightful surprise. I saw the beginning of it once and assumed that it would devolve into a formulaic doctor-helps-patient-to-outwit-the-bad-guys nonsense. This movie thankfully tries to be much deeper than that. It's a no nonsense movie, so don't expect anything light.

In some ways, it reminded me of Old Boy which is high praise indeed. But before I tell you why it merely reminded me of Old Boy, let me tell you about the plot of Trance.

Goya's painting "Witches in the Air" is stolen from an auction. The painting is worth 27 million or almost $44 million. But rather than be a perfect robbery, Simon (McAvoy), the linchpin to get the painting, does not deliver the painting and because of a head injury suffers amnesia and cannot remember where he put it.

No broomsticks, but "Three Witches in the Air" nonetheless

After finding out that ripping Simon's fingernails from his fingers won't get him to remember, the criminals resort to hypnotism to try and pry the information from him. This is the one leap of faith that the viewer is required to accept. Why did the criminals choose hypnotism? Did a doctor suggest it? Maybe.

But would hypnotism work? I guess it sounds reasonable. At least for a few minutes it does and the way it's presented in the movie makes it reasonable as well. It's only when you think about it that you start asking, "How can hypnosis help a damaged brain recover information?" That's an iffy proposition.

Danny Boyle is the director. When you think Danny Boyle, you probably think Trainspotting. At least I do. And I think how that piece of work is undeservedly overpraised. Oh, it had its moments. But the ending? "Oh, I'll just be a junkie again for a few hours and get rich and live happily ever after." Really? In fact, if I had known that Danny Boyle was the director of Trance, I probably wouldn't have watched it. I'm glad I didn't know until after the movie was over.

British cinema is a whole different world than American cinema. In America, lights flash, music blares, and things blow up to hold your attention. In Great Britain, camera angles are interesting, voice overs make you focus, and editing jumps hold you rapt. At least, that's how it strikes me.

Now, let's talk about Old Boy comparisons. Old Boy peels away layers until you arrive at the truth. So does Trance. Can hypnosis help you if the brain cells that hold the memory have been damaged? No. Even though the movie has you believing it for a while, it dawns on you that this is impossible. The writer/director anticipates this and says, "Here's the real reason hypnosis is helping." And off you go with another explanation that you can live with. But, there are still more, deeper reasons why hypnosis with this particular therapist works. The reasons are portioned out in small doses and keep you interested.

And the final reason? It's no Old Boy but it'll do. At least until you think about it for a while. It's more satisfactory and satisfying than Trainspotting, that's for sure.

Everything in the movie has a reason. There's attention to detail. No part of the movie is a "Huh?" moment and some of the questionable intentions are fully explained by the end. It's a complex piece of writing and it holds together wonderfully for the course of the movie.

Why did I like it? Well, there're the masterfully handled intricacies of the plot. There's the acting. There's the editing. There are the scenes and actions that remind me of other movies that I admire.

Here's one of those scenes. Simon is in the hospital recovering from a head wound. He's a hero and visited by colleagues, the press, and doctors. He reminded me of Little Alex in A Clockwork Orange after he'd been cured. In fact, McAvoy reminded me of Malcomb McDowell. Only, even at the beginning of the movie, McAvoy was both more engaging and more threatening than McDowell.

I also liked the focus on hypnotism. It may be too much for some, but I found that what was presented in the movie matched what hypnotism can do. Showing Elizabeth Lamb (Dawson) with a montage of patients demonstrated with a bit a wit and imagination how expert she was in her field.

It's not a perfect movie. There are a couple of things like, "Why didn't that dead body stink before they saw it?" Or, "Does Franck have a French accent all the time?" And, "What kind of a name is Franck?" You've got Frank White, Frank Martin, Frank Cotton, and even Frank Moses. What's a "Franck"? From what I can tell through Google, it's a last name of either German or Croatian origin.

There are a number of reasons why Trance is not on the At Least Once list. For instance, some detailed violence might put off some people. Then there's the editing which, although I found wonderfully imaginative when adroitly used to mask necessary but otherwise pedestrian plot advances, can be confusing if you're not paying attention or you've got ADD or you're not paying attention. (If you only read "you're not paying attention" once, then I guess the joke is lost on you.) There's no clever dialog or pithy insights into human nature. And sometimes you have to wonder if the characters, specifically Elizabeth Lamb are a little too competent in their persona. She should be a bit like a fish out of water when dealing with the gang of thieves but she's not.

Another thing that I found bothersome was the lack of police involvement in things. A painting was stolen. The cops just said, "Eh. What's $44 million?" I doubt it. Simon should have been interrogated, injury or no injury.

And then there's the big finale. Oh, the revelations are quite delicious in a macabre sort of way. But the premise that someone so competent and commanding is reduced to the response in the movie to handle their problems is a little unsatisfying. I guess it's more than a little unsatisfying. When I first saw the movie I thought that it worked. But like those layers where one revelation only satisfies until you have time to scrutinize it, the big pay-off seems lame after a viewer has time time to leisurely put the pieces together.

Trance is no worse than Cure and in some ways it's better. But it's no Old Boy, that's for sure.

Still, I like Trance enough to recommend it. There's profanity, brief full frontal nudity, and blasphemy. You can add torture to the mix as well. But, oddly enough it might have chick flick potential because Dawson's character is, from what I can gather about women, a heroine from a female point of view.


Back to the "Not Too Shabby " list or the main movie list.