Danny Boyle has had a mad few years since winning the 2009 Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire and charming us all with his Tigger impression. He went and made cutting off your own arm into one of the most exhilarating cinema experiences we’ve had in years (127 Hours), directed Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller on stage in alternating stage roles as The Creature and Victor Frankenstein and put together the opening ceremony for a little something called the 2012 Olympic Games. If I’d been hired to work on the Olympics I’d have milked it as much as possible, instagrams with Usain Bolt, sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola etc. But Boyle, modest as ever, didn’t even ask for any free tickets and instead applied through the website just like the rest of us, eventually getting access to some events but still being nailed for over a grand. The everyman film-maker!
Putting together the Olympics opening ceremony was initially only a part-time gig. Never one to just collect a cheque from the government for two days work, he figured that he could use the other five days a week to make a film. The result of those efforts is Trance, a psychological thriller about art robberies, hypnotism and memory loss. The film stars James McAvoy (in his second role this month after another London-set film, Welcome to the Punch) as Simon, an art auctioneer whose gambling debts mean he takes on a job as an inside man for a criminal gang looking to steal a Goya painting “Witches In The Air” that is valued at over £25m. Problems arise when our Simon is knocked out during the raid and forgets where he put the painting. The criminal gang is headed up by Monsieur Mesrine himself Vincent Cassel, who enlists the help of hypnotist Elizabeth played by Rosario Dawson, to help Simon remember where he put the painting. Dawson supposedly dated the 56-year-old Boyle for a while after the film wrapped – irrelevant to the film, but fun to note due to the 23 year age difference.
While the trailer hinted that Trance may be more than your run of the mill heist movie, the ridiculous amount of twists and about turns that are thrown at us couldn’t have been expected. You go in with a set list of who is good and who is bad and these logical preconceptions are thrown all over the place at regular intervals over the course of the next ninety minutes as Boyle uses all the tricks up his sleeve to mess with us.He has always been a director capable of incredibly memorable visuals (think of the toilet in Trainspotting, deserted London in 28 Days Later, the first sign of sun in Sunshine) and there are some amazing dream sequences and fantasies that will find a spot in your own consciousness and stay there for days afterwards. The words “I know what you like”, followed by a buzzing sound (I’ll say no more) being my own personal highlight.
The exposition scenes are triumphantly Boyle-esque as things are explained through voice-over and montage,backed by a rousing, dense score from Rick Smith of Underworld. It’s not unlike the music we heard in Slumdog’s Mumbai streets or when Aron Ralston finally cut through his arm in 127 Hours but here the stakes are a little lower and it’s being used to soundtrack basic plot explanation. It’s weird but it works.
Much like another psychological thriller we saw earlier this month (Side Effects), Trance probably isn’t as well put together as it’s creator had hoped when he started. Boyle’s mind was clearly on the Olympics during its production and this leaves a lingering sense of a disjointed, confused but still fully formed film. By the third act a lot of viewers will be willing the film to end but for those of us who’ve hung on and bought into Boyle’s world of double-crossing, confusion and memory loss there’s a fitting pay-off that men like Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry would be proud of. To say any more would be to spoil the ride. I will add it’s also hilarious, gruesome and damn fun. Often at the exact same time.
Next up for Boyle may be Porno, a sequel to his 1996 opus Trainspotting. He’s shown with Trance that he still knows how to mess with people’s heads but do so with energetic, entertaining cinema. Precisely how that would transfer over to Begbie and Renton ten years later is anyone guess, but let’s hope that Danny Boy gives us the chance to find out.
UK / Directed By: Danny Boyle / Written By: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge / Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel / 101min / Thriller, Drama / Release: 27 March 2013 (Ireland, UK), 4 April 2013 (USA, Canada)
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