26th Mar2013

‘Trance’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani | Written by Joe Ahearne, John Hodge | Directed by Danny Boyle


Everyone needs to let off some steam from time-to-time. The daily grind of living life means we all have to find something to take our minds off of it. Sports, video games, going to gigs and hey, watching films, these are just a few of the ways people disengage from their normal life and enjoy. Not so for Danny Boyle. While hard at work on the already legendary London Olympics Opening Ceremony, he decided to take his spare time and do his usual day job, negotiating a way to make a film while organising The Greatest Show On Earth. Nearly half a year on from his great triumph, he returns to the big screen with his most “genre” film in years Trance, a twisty-turny and oh-so-dark thriller which sees Boyle reminding us that this after all, is the “National Treasure” who started off his career on the big screen with Shallow Grave.

And indeed, the darker nature of a film like that is at the centre of Trance. While the marketing and the start of the film have it play out as a more “caper” version of Inception with James McAvoy charmingly running us through the details of an “inside man” heist in which he decided to betray his co-conspirators, things don’t remain this light and frothy for long. The bright and beautiful cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle give way to a darker palette, the angular, clean lines of the production design become ever more threatening and the film decides to shift tone, becoming something just as tricky but aiming for the emotional more than you’d expect, the film becoming a portrait of a man in denial over a great many things.

This isn’t to say that Trance stops being the intense pleasure it is from the very start, only that it changes tack and John Hodge’s screenplay copes well. Without a core which aims to hit the heart as much as the head, the constant rug-pulling of the last 30 minutes would feel disingenuous, like a fairground ride delivering thrills through the ride but nothing after. Here though, the central trio change allegiances  change personalities and all end up being three-dimensional figures when they start off simply as “the hero”, “the femme fatale” and “the Euro-villain”. James McAvoy winningly combines his charm with the sense that there is something sinister under the surface, something he’s only really played with recently on stage and screen and always with winning results. His position of the unreliable narrator is played with by Boyle and McAvoy perfectly and this sense of an unreliable nature to what we are being shown is also expertly handled by Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel both getting their teeth into meatier parts than they usually have, Dawson in particular morphing as the film goes on and never being anything other than utterly convincing.

Of course, the real hero of the piece here is Mr Boyle himself. Taking a screenplay which could potentially have little weight, and indeed the film does clunk in its gear shifting at the very occasional moment, but he’s obviously having fun here. Playing with reflections, utilising Rick Smith’s score and an eclectic use of source music to fashion mood and atmosphere and crafting his images with the utmost care we expect from him, he’s taking the film as seriously as he would the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and the attention paid shines through.

Trance is a joy of a film. Mature, sophisticated and elevating some slightly trashier elements of what is within the story, this is a genre film par excellence, becoming something which engages all parts of your movie-watching senses and showing that if Danny Boyle takes his spare time to do something like this, he truly must be one of the greatest talents British filmmaking has ever had.

********* 9/10


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