Showy film about nothing
Danny Boyle’s movies are an exhilarating ride even when they don’t work. Consider the adventure folded into Alex Garland’s wild page-turner The Beach, and the boldness of Leo DiCaprio’s performance. Yet The Beach ranks just above Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary in the small roster of his flops. In his terms the other Garland collaboration for the sci-fi thriller Sunshine was only a moderate success, but who would want to have missed its fleeting melancholy and gorgeousness? Among this director’s dozen films, Trance fits in the bottom three. It has a high pitch of intensity and visual razzle-dazzle contributed by Anthony Dod Mantle’s glossy cinematography and Jon Harris’s frenetic editing, but its plot runs in silly circles till you just don’t care anymore. There’s more than one clever twist too many. It makes no sense. Simon (James McAvoy), the art auctioneer-thief, says near the end he no longer wants the hugely valuable Goya painting he stole and hid from his accomplices and adds, “I don’t know if I ever did.” Well, that’s about right: we don’t care anymore about this film and we don’t know if we ever did.
Boyle and his editor make the mistake of cutting in images that aren’t real right from the start, a witty exposition of the art of art auction thievery. Nothing in this movie is ever real. The gambit is simple, except that in this remake of a 2001 TV movie, it’s not thought through, and no amount of eye candy and hocus pocus about hypnosis and double-crosses can hide that. Employees are advised not to risk their lives, Simon narrates, but when a theft comes they may try to protect the art if they can do so safely. So when thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel) burst in just after the hammer goes down on the sale of the Goya, Simon is to grab it and take it to a safe place. But he’s really in league with the thieves.
Simple enough. Except that we never really know just what happens. The thieves — Frank joined by Danny Sapani (Nate), Matt Cross (Dominic) and Wahab Sheikh (Riz) — have set off tear gas bombs so all is wreathed in fog. They’ve brandished weapons so everyone rushes out. Why would they even dare to move? But let’s not get tangled in the thorny and unsolvable issue of verisimilitude. What we do see, because it’s run several times, as many moments are with elements slightly altered, is that in a scuffle between Simon and Franck to make them look like enemies, when Franck seems to grab the painting, he gives Simon a severe blow to the head. Simon has removed the painting from its frame with a razor, and now, when he comes to in a hospital, he can’t remember where he hid it. Torture doesn’t work, and Franck proposes a hypnotist, whom Simon picks from a list — Elizabeth Lamb. With that rule about verisimilitude, we’ll not worry about the oddity of finding Rosario Dawson as Elizabeth Lamb in a posh Harley Street office. It’s amnesia, you see, selective amnesia. Elizabeth is good, but things go awry. To begin with Simon is to pretend he’s trying to find a set of keys, so as not to reveal it’s a stolen painting. And so he does find some keys. But where’s the painting? Whoops.
Are you getting tired of this? I am. Some may see this as a movie of enormous ingenuity, but to me it seems mired in its utter frivolity and lack of conviction. We don’t know if Danny Boyle himself ever really cared. He ought to have rested on his laurels after the success of his amazing London Olympics opening ceremony till something better came along. The images remain a lush head trip, but remote from reality. One gets many glimpses of London streets and posh London flats, but only for seconds, before something else, real or imaginary, cuts in. When ever there’s a road trip, we see a mass of highway interchanges shot from above in bright nighttime colors, a spectral symbol rather than anything realistically road-like. It’s image for the sake of image. Lots of color here, not enough noir. There’s blood, gore, fire, a drowning, and frontal nudity. The sound is turned up so loud, so to speak, that we don’t hear anything.
And there’s a curiously unsexy kind of sexiness, which seems to fit with Boyle’s lead and fellow Scot (speaking in his own juicy Scottish accent). McAvoy has a strange muscular boyishness. He always seems to be bursting out of his clothes even when they’re on, which they’re often not. But the boyishness makes him seem unsuitable for adult relations. He grins all the time, as if he finds all this funny, and his blue eyes always have a spaced-out sparkle. He injects an unnerving energy into every scene without adding to its conviction. McAvoy exemplifies the whole movie, and dominates it. His performance is vivid and exciting, but empty. He titillates, but does not satisfy. Rosario Dawson is strong and suave, herself sexy without sexiness in her Botticelliesque frontal nude moment, but this is not the right role for her. Vincent Cassel, acting in impeccable English, becomes neutral and generic, losing the menace he has in films like La Haine and Irréversible or his amazing tour de force as the lead in the two-film Mesrine gangster biopic.
DIRECTOR: DANNY BOYLE
WRITERS: JOE AHEARNE, JOHN HODGE
STARS: JAMES MCAVOY, ROSARIO DAWSON, VINCENT CASSEL
RUNTIME: 101 MIN