Director Danny Boyle has built up an awful lot of goodwill in his native Great Britain since orchestrating last year’s magnificent Olympics opening ceremony. He might need it bearing in mind this messy return to the big screen.
In what may be Boyle’s biggest misfire since The Beach, Trance tells the overly complicated story of fine art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) who is also the inside man for a gang of art thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassell), who are intent on stealing a Goya worth millions from a London auction house. In a pulsating opening sequence that’s easily the highlight of the movie, the painting is taken — but after receiving a blow to the head from Franck, Simon has no recollection of what he did with it.
Enter Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a Harley Street hypnotherapist hired by Franck to unlock the secrets contained within Simon’s mind and uncover the location of the Goya (“everyone knows amnesia is bollocks,” says one of Franck’s hoodlums in an all too rare moment of levity). But of course, things aren’t what they seem.
By squeezing a heist movie, drama and romantic triangle into one film Boyle seems to be more a magpie than a director with Trance — he’s acknowledged drawing inspiration from fellow British director Nicolas Roeg (Performance, Don’t Look Now) and Boyle also seems to be looking to movies such as Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Inception and Vanilla Sky. It’s difficult to root for the characters, or even care about them much – which wasn’t an issue in Boyle’s debut thriller Shallow Grave – while scriptwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge seem to keep writing themselves into corners they just can’t escape from.
Boyle tends to do a lot with a little – the poverty-stricken kids of Slumdog Millionaire, the junkies of Trainspotting, James Franco’s captivating self-amputee in 127 Hours – but struggles to pull off brash, flashy features like A Life Less Ordinary or The Beach. And reviewers concur, with Variety noting that “superficial pleasures aside… the convoluted script jumps and dodges so often, it soon loses the thread of its own story.” Time Out New York thinks “the film plays like something Boyle could kick out in his sleep, all his supercool devices listlessly deployed in service of a mediocre wet dream.” But going back to our original point, the Daily Telegraph concludes that “Trance is what happens when one of our finest filmmakers himself regresses into a past life: it’s far from perfect, but you can hardly begrudge him the trip.” At least as far as Boyle is concerned, the goodwill isn’t evaporating anytime soon.
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