Blu-Ray Review: Trance

Published on July 30th, 2013 in: Blu-Ray, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore


Trance is a very odd film. Director Danny Boyle has crafted a good career out of odd films, mostly because he refuses—admirably—to hew to one specific genre. Trance is particularly Boylean then, veering from genre to genre at a discombobulating pace.

James McAvoy plays Simon Newton, who introduces himself to us by narrating a visual guide to protecting works of art from being stolen at the auction house where he’s employed. When Goya’s Witches In The Air is snagged after its auction has ended, Simon follows the set protocol for when these things happen, only he also throws in a taser, someone else throws a punch, and he ends up with amnesia, ensuring that he can’t remember where he stashed the painting.

He’s in on it, you see, and the rather intimidating Franck (Vincent Cassel) really wants that painting. Franck employs a hypnotist, Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), to help, but things go a lot further than he intended. This was all presented in the trailer to the film, so I’m not ruining anything by explaining this part of the plot.

What’s harder to explain is where the movie goes from here. I appreciate that Boyle was trying to confound audience expectations, and he does succeed at it. Trance doesn’t rely on a twist that sneaks up you on at the end, thrusting everything you think you’ve just seen into a new light. It actively withholds and distorts information so you’re not sure what’s happening until a reveal that is further undermined by yet another reveal.

On paper this sounds like it could be the perfect movie. Trance is far from perfect, however, and it’s less to do with its narrative structure (which in some ways resembles a more convoluted version of Inception) than it does with the tone of the film. It begins with breeze and wit before it delves into dark, threatening territory that is both unrealistic and yet terribly believable at the same time, and not because of an unreliable narrator.

The characters, as one would expect with a plot like this, are not what they seem at first, playing against type in unexpected ways. Yet once we see them for who they really are, we don’t believe it. This works if you think about the character transformations as a metaphor for not only the movie itself, but also the problematic relationship between Simon and Elizabeth. The only problem is, that doesn’t work while you’re actually watching the movie.

It’s not difficult to imagine that a woman, especially one as intelligent, talented, and self-possessed as Elizabeth could overcome a serious trauma. It is more difficult to accept that she’d put herself purposely in harm’s way and that the end result of everything would be a return to the whimsy of the beginning of the film.

Visually, like all Boyle films, Trance is gorgeous. The use of color is exquisite and at times, almost distracting from the action on screen. There are some breathtaking location shots, which give it an otherworldly feeling. The production design is particularly impressive. Framing and editing are utilized to beautifully convey characterization and points of view (even when those points of view are called into question).

There is at least one major plot point which is never explained and this, along with the jarring shifts in tone, make Trance an intriguing, daring, and exciting film to watch, but one that also leaves the viewer waiting for something that never manages to reveal itself.

Trance was released on Blu-Ray July 23 through Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Special features include the theatrical trailer and several featurettes. The Power of Suggestion—Making Trance includes Kick Off, Danny’s Film Noir, Hypnotherapy, The Look, and The Final Rewrite. There’s also a Danny Boyle retrospective.

There are a few deleted scenes, too, which come across more like alternate scenes. At least two of these would have worked much better than the ones in the finished film.

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