Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Man on Film: Trance

As directors go, there are few whose work I've been as diligent about seeing theatrically as Danny Boyle. There have only been two Boyle films that I didn't see in the theater, Shallow Grave (which came out when I was 15 and most assuredly never played in La Crosse, WI) and Millions (which I never saw). With the exception of Millions (which I can't speak to), Trance is the least impressive Boyle release since The Beach. Part of that is owing to the fact that Sunshine, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours, and Slumdog Millionaire are the films that have come since The Beach, but when you are dealing with a director whose curriculum vitae is as visceral and impressive as Boyle's, it is hard to divorce expectations from the film-going experience.

Despite a promising premise and the attempt to craft a labyrinthine psychologically-complex narrative, Trance sputters through its 101 minutes of running time, never managing to get its cylinders running with a synchronicity that one would expect from such an accomplished auteur. Working from a Joe Ahearne script originally contrived around the time that Shallow Grave came out and then doctored by frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge--the scribe responsible for writing and/or adapting Boyle's first four films--Trance starts us off with a first-person narrative presented by Simon (James McAvoy). Boyle, Ahearne, and Hodge use this construct to their advantage in framing Simon as the sympathetic protagonist from the film's onset. If there is one element of the film that works especially well (other than Rosario Dawson laying herself quite bare, which no red-blooded male or a not insignificant chunk of the female movie-going population is going to mind one bit), it is the manipulation of the audience's expectations by way of this narrative presentation. As the amnesiac Simon tries to piece together a history of events, motivations, and relationships, the audience is brought in tow, both narratively and emotionally.

Unfortunately, the vim and vigor usually present in a Danny Boyle joint are only occasionally present. The clever narrative manipulation fails to compensate for the unusually and uncharacteristically plodding plot line. The concern the audience is to feel for Simon's well-being at the hands of the crime boss Franck (Vincent Cassel) never becomes palpable because Franck and crew are never quite menacing enough to actually be scary. With whom the blame for that should lie is up for debate, but regardless this is a problem. We certainly understand that Simon's life depends on his remembering what happened to the painting at the center of the story, but the tension, the threat against Simon never reaches the level that a sense of dread strikes the audience. The ensuing deconstruction that occurs is then left not quite as clever as it could be as the foundation it tears down was of flimsy consistency to begin with.

While Trance is far from a great film and feels significantly longer than its 1:41 run-time, it is not so bad as to warrant its complete avoidance. Much is required of McAvoy, and for the most part he imbues the role with deftness required to sell Simon to the audience. Cassel is serviceable, even if each has moments where he feels a bit out of place in the film. Dawson uses her femininity and sexuality spectacularly well, running the gamut from sultry to vulnerable to manipulative to authoritarian with ease. There are moments where there are slight hiccups, and Dawson feels a bit out of place--either in the role or in the film--but those are forgivable blips for the most part. Ultimately, it feels as though the film was simply lacking in the requisite uniformity of approach to set this apart from Boyle's more forgettable and flawed films like The Beach or A Life Less Ordinary.

(Red Band Trailer - Not Safe for Work, but fuck you if that matters.)

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...