This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st March 2013
Fresh from bringing the world the greatest Olympic Games opening ceremony ever seen, Danny Boyle throws more of that magic at the silver screen with his latest movie, Trance – true to its name, a slightly spaced-out, somewhat confusing but unquestionably exhilarating adventure into the workings of an art theft.
You may remember Boyle from such films as Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, in which case you’ll feel right at home. However, if you’re expecting an update on Slumdog Millionaire or the feelgood family flop, Millions, you will need to gird your loins.
As in the opening moments of Trainspotting, we first hear the dulcet Scottish tones of our protaganist, introducing us to his world. Back then it was the unknown Ewan McGregor leading us into the murky underworld of drug addiction; here it’s the already famous James McAvoy who plays Simon, an art auctioneer in London who gets caught up in a heist. Waking with amnesia but presumed to have knowledge of the missing painting, he must have his unconscious mind unclouded by a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson, lately in Unstoppable) before a band of criminals led by French every-villain, Vincent Cassel, rips out all of his fingernails. (It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Boyle, having had a man cut off his own arm in 127 Hours, gets quite adventurous with the body horror in this film.)
Trance‘s hugely exciting introduction promises an involved rollercoaster ride, complete with pumping bass soundtrack and a photographic style that is heavily stylised, bombastic and thrilling – think the late Tony Scott, but without his trademark jump-cuts that made viewing uncomfortable. Boyle goes over the top in making London look futuristic and shiny, but pulls back just enough to let you concentrate on what is actually a very complicated tale.
The film is even better on second viewing, which is a bit of a double-edged compliment as it really ought to stand up on just one, but with narrative trickery to rival Inception and such fast action, you may leave the cinema needing more than a cursory watercooler chat afterwards. Granted, Boyle and regular screenwriter from his early films, John Hodge, get ever so slightly silly as the film progresses, by which time the incessantly loud music and twists and turns may have worn you out. Hang in there, however, as there are countless brilliant set-pieces and a denouement that actually does answer (almost) all of your questions.
With terrific acting, plenty of humour, some dubious full-frontal nudity and non-stop high energy (oh, and even a brief intro to Art History), Trance is evidence that the King of the Olympics really can turn his hand to anything.