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Trance movie review: hard-Boyled

Director Danny Boyle’s new thriller is more psychotic than psychological — a wallop to the senses that comes on like gangbusters and never relents.

One would be tempted to slap the “style over substance” label on Danny Boyle’s frenetic new thriller Trance — a whirl of flashing colours, whiplash edits and throbbing electronica — were it not for a restless screenplay hellbent on inventing and reinventing itself, as if the writers kept turfing pages as soon as they flew out of the printer.

The MacGuffin is a good old fashioned art heist from which auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) walks away with a squillion dollar painting then, one whack to the head later, forgets where he put the damn thing. As if to make the incident more relatable to the general public, writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge take him to hypnotist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to ask whether she can help him find his keys.

“Keys” are code for “painting” but Simon and his criminal outfit (led by a smarmy Vincent Cassell) don’t trust the unsettlingly talented hypnotist until Lamb does what any opportunistic mind-controller would: decides to join them and starts calling the shots.

The floundering Simon is under pressure to remember but is scared he’s going to get popped after he plays his final card, thus incapable, Lamb reasons, of mentally retrieving this information. The goons must show their sensitive side, she says, going on to make one convulse and froth from the mouth out of fear of being buried alive, then spearheading an assortment of preposterous plot twists.

Even by the generous standards of movie hypnotists, Rosario Dawson’s character tramples over any notion of believability, favouring the mould of a voodoo sorceress over anything vaguely resembling an accredited professional. Controlling the minds of her “patients” by a mere few words (even remotely via iPad), her character flips and flaps in a magical breeze, existing far beyond the boundaries of bad writing.

The protagonist is worse: Simon’s personality bends, creases, crinkles and crams to the whims of the plot (decent guy one scene, woman-beating bastard the next) which spirals giddily into oblivion, Boyle relishing every opportunity to pound pulses and grind down the senses.

A pair of sunnies would make Trance’s seizure-inducing editing and cinematography more palatable. Earmuffs, too. The film’s cranked-to-11 soundtrack seems to have been cooked up by DJs for the niche “pop an eckie and go to the cinema” crowd. Despite its pedantic energy, Trance is an empty ride stuffed to the gills with aesthetic pulp, a fishbowl memory thriller chopped up and hurled at viewers in a thousand chichi chunks.

It’s all surface values and storytelling smoke and mirrors, the smoke intoxicating and the mirrors slashed sixteen ways from Sunday. The true oddity of Trance arises from the screenplay’s refusal to invent a consistent logic, then deciding to repudiate it anyway, and to reinvent and repudiate until there is virtually nothing left but a colourful puddle of half-thoughts and burnt-out ideas. A restless, furious, jittery exercise in answering one gap of logic by creating another.

Trance’s Australian theatrical release date: April 4, 2013. 

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  • 1
    mattsui
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Nicely written, LB. Perhaps you have a screenplay in you?

  • 2
    Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I wish I’d read this review before going to see this last night on the recommendation of an erstwhile trustworthy friend.

    Me and my partner were along for the ride for the first half hour when it was an art heist film, but then it started going downhill, reaching the bottom when she shaves her twat for the unbelievable Simon in order to prove something. ‘How did you know’? He says before reaching out to touch it in an ET-phone-home moment. There were any number of ways to satisfy that particular plot point that wouldn’t have resulted in gratuitous and inequitable nudity (the penis was actively covered), as well as the perpetuation of 15 year old boys’ ideas of female sexuality.

    Also, a technique that I hate, and that is ordinarily well below Boyle, is to flummox the audience with a plot that’s harder to follow than a game of three-card Monte, only to reveal the entire backstory in a 3 minute monologue 10 minutes before the denouement. That it was necessary should have been a clue to the face that the plot was too ridiculous in the first place.

    When you say they the writers kept turfing pages as soon as they flew out of the printer, I think you hit the nail on the head. The turns were completely unforeseen and unbelievable, as if they were being picked out of a hat.

    We wondered whether we could salvage the film and rewrite the last hour, just for our own amusement, but decided the whole basis of the plot wasn’t worthy of any attempt.

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