Monday, 10 February 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Trance

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Produced by: Danny Boyle
Christian Colson

Screenplay by: Joe Ahearne
John Hodge

Starring: James McAvoy
Rosario Dawson
Vincent Cassel

Music by: Rick Smith

Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle

Editing by: Jon Harris

Studio(s): Cloud Eight Films
Pathe International
Film4 Productions
Indian Paintbrush

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): March 27, 2013 (United Kingdom)
April 5, 2013 (United States, limited)

Running time: 98 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language(s): English

Production budget: $20 million

Box-office revenue: $24, 261, 569

So, just firing on from my review of In The House. I may as well keep the momentum going while I still have it, because I won't lie I'm getting rather tired. Don't get me wrong, I love doing this and I'm making sure that this has no overarching implication on my reviews, but when you see and review this many movies over a short period of time, it can be quite overwhelming. Unlike most critics, who review all year round, I have an off-season, if you will, and thus the year always ends with me cramming in both Oscar season and movies I want to catch up with in one monstrous swoop. As I said, I'm looking forward to getting back to just watching some Dario Argento movies. So, for all the latest and greatest in movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Trance, the latest film from Danny Boyle. Although shot in London before the 2012 Summer Olympics, the movie was put on hold so Boyle could work on his masterful opening ceremony, Isles Of Wonder, and then recommencing work on Trance in the post-productions stage. For those of you who don't know, I'm going to tell you that in my opinion Danny Boyle is one of the most important filmmakers over the past twenty-five years. Not withstanding he and Alan Clarke were the architects behind Elephant, which is for my money the best film about Northern Ireland during The Troubles, but he has carved an extraordinary career that includes greats such as Shallow Grave (a wonderfully macabre black comedy), Trainspotting (tremendous adaptation from the Irvine Welsh novel), 28 Days Later (one of the all-time great horror films), Millions (grossly underrated and great film for kids about kids) and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director), so, yeah, I like Danny Boyle. Rightio, so, plot synopsis here: Trance is a psychological thriller which sees Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer who is involved in the theft of a painting from his own auction house. When his partner-in-crime Franck (Vincent Cassel) confronts him, Simon attacks him and Franck gives him a blow on the head which leaves him a form of amnesia, unable to remember what he done with the painting. When other techniques, such as torture, prove futile in finding the painting's whereabouts, Franck has Simon see a hypnotist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), to penetrate his subconscious and discover where the work of art (valued at over £25 million) has got to. Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, all three of the central cast are on fine form. James McAvoy, who had a splendid 2013 on account of this and Filth, engages the audience with the confusion of the character. There's something inherently trustworthy about McAvoy as a screen presence, in that he could be the Devil spouting absolute twaddle, and yet he makes you believe every word he says. Speaking of the Devil, Vincent Cassel plays Franck on a tightrope between frightening intimidation and malevolent charm, and is, as always, a welcome addition of any cast. However, the big kudos acting wise have to go to Rosario Dawson, who is just terrific in the part of Elizabeth Lamb. As Danny Boyle mentioned, this is "the first time I put a woman at the heart of a movie," and Dawson not only adds to depth of Boyle's work, but that of her own. Lamb is a part in which every beat must be hit right, and Dawson hits it out of the park. Over the course of the film, as the character actual role in the story changes, so too does her performance, and with the character largely shrouded in mystery, when the 'revelation,' if you will, comes along, Dawson makes what could be a simple basil expository monologue/flashback with narration something really quite moving. Also, for a movie that's relatively low-budget, it's a technically very strong bit of work. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, in conjunction with the production design, is not dissimilar to the use of lighting and the strength of the colours that Luciano Tovoli implemented in the Dario Argento classic Suspiria (I know, I'm a bit crazy on Argento!). What distinguishes the look of the film here though is Mantle's work being in digital video. As some of you may know, I personally prefer an old-school 35mm film look, but Mantle is a master of both 16mm and digital photography, and the digital work here adds to the purple haze and sense of confusion in the atmosphere of the film. Also, the editing by Jon Harris is a display of real tact. Trance is the kind of movie that could have resulted in a lot of editing gimmickry to get the point across, but what Harris does is more in the realm of subtlety, slowly throwing out the odd thing to make us ask a question or two until it gets to point where we are questioning the construction of the picture as a whole. Also praiseworthy is the score by Rick Smith. Underworld as a whole have worked with Danny Boyle for many years, but this time Smith is flying solo, and boy does he do it in style. This is a largely electronics driven score, and anyone who knows me knows I'm in favour of getting away from traditional film scoring aesthetics, and what Smith does here comes across as largely improvisational but really in fact fitting the film, a pulse to a heartbeat. Also, there's a strange riffing/reference it seems to David Bowie, for I heard during the heist both similar beats to Hallo Spaceboy and Be My Wife (two in one sequence can't be coincidental), and they both strangely work. It reminded me of the time I went to see The Battleship Potemkin in the Ulster Hall and Martin Baker wove motifs from Tchaikovsky, Holst and Grieg into his playing along with the film. Furthermore, it connects in with the dreamlike confusion of the film's atmosphere. Finally on the praiseworthy's, as I've mentioned, Danny Boyle is one of the most important filmmakers of the past twenty-five years, and here he brings his craft to the fore. After Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, both of which I liked but are high-fallutin' dramas of 'profundity,' Boyle has gone back to making a solid, edgy genre movie, in this case a thriller. If there's one thing he always brings to the table, it's this energy and feeling that there is something of force behind this whole thing, and this hasn't detracted an iota over the years. He's still very much a director of real finesse and efficiency, and it's he who makes Trance as watchable as it is.

Now, while I do have a real fondness for Trance, there is one problem with the film that denies it from being a masterpiece and that is the script. Joe Ahearne sent the screenplay to Boyle in 1994 after he made Shallow Grave, so it has been in development for a long time, and Ahearne did go so far as to turn into a television movie of the same name in 2001. For this film, Boyle brought in regular collaborator John Hodge, who has since become a playwright, to do some doctoring, and while I think it probably benefitted, it didn't benefit enough. It's a regular criticism, I know, but the film as a whole is rather thinly written. Out of the three main characters, it's only that of Elizabeth Lamb that succeeds on paper, for Simon and Franck (though played by fine actors in McAvoy and Cassel) aren't characters that quite come off the page as particularly memorable. Also, after the 'revelation,' the climax of the third act has something really lacking the punch behind our comprehension of the full extent of the film's plot. I hate to say this, because I did rather like the movie, but it is too much of a deus ex machina, things being wrapped up too quickly, but it also has that poxy thing of "well, maybe the story really isn't over" going on. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with things being open-ended (Inception and Blue Is The Warmest Colour are fine examples), but there has to a sense of appropriate conclusiveness and that it fits what has come before; unfortunately, I didn't get that here.

Despite my reservations about the script, in particular with regards to the characterisation and the ending feeling like an inappropriate deus ex machina, Trance was still a cracking good film. The central cast members, especially Rosario Dawson, were spot on, and despite being a low-budget movie it's technically astute, with the production design in conjunction with Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography giving the film unique look, and Jon Harris being tactful with his editing. The score by Rick Smith too is a fine bit of work, and even though it's not quite up there with Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later or Millions, Trance still comes with the energy and superb pacing from one of our finest living directors in Danny Boyle.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (cold house and I'm too stubborn/lazy to put the heating on)

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