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Movie Review: “Trance”

Apr 112013
 By , April 11, 2013


“Trance”  — a film review by Gary Chew

Director Danny Boyle, who gave us “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” is back with another visceral romp that may be the product of Boyle watching “Inception” too many times. Also titled with a single word,”Trance” uses hypnotherapy as its conceit instead of dreams, as Christopher Nolan did for “Inception.” Either dreams or hypnosis used in a screenplay can be awesome for keeping a moviegoer tricked and, hopefully, astounded.

Tricked I was watching “Trance,” but not so much astounded. I did feel a mild touch of shock at some of Boyle’s devices to hold my attention. One that was really catchy is when a leading player in the film is shot point blank in the face. Viewers don’t immediately see the extent of the wound … until the victim raises only half a quite bloody head above the edge of a counter, and continues talking to the shooter – with the intact upper lip and lower jaw. It’s then you know that the person experiencing this confrontation – that’s not really just happened – is in a trance. Such things often occur in “Trance.”


Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson in “Trance.”

Joe Ahearne and John Hodges’ script has little sense of reality. Keeping the pace at full tilt with unrelenting repetition of various effects suddenly popping into a scene seems to be the top priority. Over-the-top action and violence run a close second. And it’s all deftly supported by excellent cinematography and editing, although the film’s music is too frequently applied with a heavy brush.

That good, old standby, baring the skin, is another strategy for not allowing the viewer to look away much, especially when the leading lady, Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”), comes ambling down a hallway to an attentive James McAvoy (“Atonement”) without a stitch on. That would be a stroll toward Mr, McAvoy while she’s looking him straight in the eye. Boyle has framed Dawson frontally, and totally fills the screen with her form – head to toe.

Then for the gals, McAvoy and co-star Vincent Cassel get a good bit of skin time too, although not to the extent of Dawson’s. All three leading players in the film appear to have rigorous workout schedules in real life.

What’s the movie about? I thought you’d never ask.

This is a multi-million dollar art auction heist movie. McAvoy’s character, Simon, has hooked up with a gang of art thieves led by an intense guy named Franck, played by Cassel (“Black Swan”). Simon has made this liaison because of his heavy gambling debt. The stolen painting would more than pay for what Simon has lost playing poker.


Danny Sapani, Wahab Sheikh and Vincent Cassel.

But somehow, and we don’t know it for a while, the purloined picture is not in the gang’s getaway briefcase where Simon placed it during the commotion of the well-staged heist. Franck knocks Simon unconscious for the high dollar art going missing. When Simon regains consciousness, he can’t remember what he’s done with the painting. (However, you’re supposed to know, somehow, that he has done something with it). If the script hadn’t required Simon to lose his memory, the movie wouldn’t have reached the entertainment level it does since he has lost it … his memory, that is.

Dawson plays Elizabeth, a professional hypnotherapist who specializes in helping people remember that which they can’t. Instead of killing Simon, the art thieves allow him to make an appointment with Elizabeth so he can begin work to recall what happened to the arty loot that’s disappeared.
Yip, that’s the story.

But not to worry, the narrative is cleverly presented in such a way that’s meant to be a high-level, quick-think puzzle in a puzzle that mostly appeals to those with a keen intellect. You know, like a chess player’s?

I hate to say it, but there’s no one in “Trance” whom a moviegoer can care about in terms of “the good guy,” not even the character Dawson portrays. But for some reason, I didn’t take much umbrage because of Elizabeth’s shortcomings.

“Trance” tries too hard and pushes all the way to excite, titillate and confound, then loses most of its steam racing to the not-much-of-a-payoff finish.

Danny Boyles’ clever film asks a moviegoer to suspend way too much disbelief for the amount of “smartz” it appears to require to appreciate. Following the screening I went to, I recall someone else saying that “Trance” is silly.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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