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When upmarket art auctioneer Simon double-crosses the gang responsible for the daring daylight robbery of a priceless painting by Goya, he incurs the wrath of the gang's violent leader, Franck. In the aftermath of a beating where he is knocked unconscious, Simon claims to be suffering from amnesia and is therefore unable to remember where the painting is, provoking Franck into hiring female hypnotist Elizabeth to find the answer. But as Elizabeth delves ever deeper into Simon's subconscious, the lines between fantasy and reality converge, threatening to consume all as a series of shocking events spiral violently out of control.
For more about Trance and the Trance Blu-ray release, see Trance Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 26, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani, Tuppence Middleton, Simon Kunz (I)
Director: Danny Boyle
» See full cast & crew
Trance Blu-ray Review
"Do you want to remember, or do you want to forget?"
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 26, 2013
Woody Allen famously said, "The heart wants what the heart wants," but what we often forget is that everything we attribute to the "heart" is actually a product of the material brain—its twisting neural pathways, its reserves of memory, its manufactured construction of the self. And the brain can easily be fooled or otherwise manipulated, by ourselves and others, by drugs or deep states of altered consciousness. Our identities and desires are far more malleable than we think. That's the overarching theme of Trance, the latest film from Danny Boyle, the high-energy stylist of, most recently, 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire.
The project was on Boyle's back burner for years—it's based on a script by Joe Ahearne that was turned into a British TV movie in 2001—and he finally brought it into production in the middle of his duties as creative director of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Trance does give the impression of a director blowing off some creative steam. If the Olympic opening ceremony was highly regulated, family-friendly-by-mandate, and targeted-at-the-broadest-possible-audience, Trance is the polar opposite—a free-wheeling, decidedly adult psycho-thriller that will only appeal to those who enjoy fractured, hard-to-follow narratives. As such, it's inherently a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and even those who have long trusted Boyle's filmmaking instincts implicitly may question some of Trance's stylistic and narrative turns.
The film begins, at least, in the familiar art-heist territory of Entrapment and The Thomas Crown Affair. X-Men: First Class' James McAvoy plays Simon Newton, an auctioneer for "Delancey's"—spelled out in the Sotheby's font—which is about to commence bidding wars on the Goya painting Witches in the Air. Simon's opening voiceover narration gives a run-down of how increasingly sophisticated art thieves must be to keep pace with evolving security technologies, but heist-master Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his thugs get by mostly on brute force when they burst in, tear-gassing the room and leveling shotguns at the security guards who've been taught that "no piece of art is worth a human life."
Simon, as it turns out, is actually an inside man, tasking with hiding the painting—a hefty gambling debt has driven him to assist in the theft—so it's initially confusing when he zaps Franck's neck with a taser, prompting the comically unfazed criminal mastermind to bludgeon him in the head. When Simon wakes up later from a brain surgery and a medically induced coma—perceived as a hero for trying to stop the thieves—he goes home to find that Franck and his goons have completely trashed his apartment looking for the $26 million painting. He would gladly tell them where it is to avoid the fingernail-pulling tortures they inflict on him, but there's one problem; he simply can't remember. He's got a specific sort of amnesia—or does he, you might ask—and Franck isn't about to accept "oops, I forgot" as an answer.
Enter hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who is hired under false pretenses—Simon tells her he needs help finding his "keys"—but who quickly susses out the real dilemma. What's more, she unexpectedly ingratiates herself with the band of thieves, sleeping with Franck and using sexual jealousy as a central aspect of Simon's ongoing memory treatment. Is she just looking to spice up her dull clinician's life? Is she in it for the money? Or is there some deeper motivation? To reveal anything more about the specifics of the plot would be criminal, but suffice it to say that Trance has a looping, time-skipping, smashed-to-shards story that can only be pieced together in hindsight. Even then, there's some ambiguity`about the order and was-or-wasn't-it-real nature of certain events. I think it all fits together, but this is one of those movies where a second—or third— viewing is almost mandatory. The question, then, is whether or not Trance is worth a second or third viewing.
I'm going to conditionally say yes, the condition being that you really do have to enjoy these kinds of chronology-adverse thrillers and the complications that inevitably come with them—the general narrative confusion and the difficulty of connecting with characters whose motivations are so well- concealed that it takes some significant end-of-the-film exposition to properly reveal them. Some of Trance's turns are ludicrous, and the movie's intense, candy-colored cinematography—with its dutch angles and warped images—speaks to a certain amount of neo-noir style over substance. It's gorgeous, but considering the subject matter, there's unfortunately not much here to latch onto in terms of real ideas about identity and consciousness, free will and memory. The best way I can think to describe Trance is that it's basically Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, if Eternal Sunshine were a crime thriller with little emotional or mental engagement. It's essentially a glossy piece of pulp fiction with a semi-clever hook of a premise.
Trance may be a flight of creative fancy for Boyle, but the commanding presence of its leads does help keep it grounded. Though McAvoy's character is the least believable—he's perhaps a bit too confident for a man in his position—the actor brings a dimensionality to the indebted auctioneer, effectively fuzzing the good guy/bad guy distinction. Likewise, Vincent Cassel might be somewhat typecast as a criminal genius, but hey, he's great at playing these sorts of slippery, eel-like parts. What's most surprising about the film is how Elizabeth slowly emerges as the main character, playing these two men off of one another. Rosario Dawson is perfect—steely and vulnerable, sultry and ice-cold. If the film were made in the late '80s, I can imagine Sharon Stone in the role, but maybe that's only because Dawson totally one-ups Stone's famous Basic Instinct leg-crossing scene. I'll just say this: Simon has a fetish for the body hair-less beauties of Renaissance paintings, and Elizabeth is willing to use this to her advantage.
Trance Blu-ray, Video Quality
Coming from Danny Boyle, it's no surprise that Trance looks spectacular, alternately creamy and candy-colored, with visual peculiarities meant to heighten the disjointed mood. As is Boyle's wont, the film was shot on all manner of digital cameras, from the Arri Alexa—which makes up the bulk of the material—down to Canon DSLRs and small POV action cams. Each of these cameras has its distinctive strengths and shortcomings, but overall the image in Fox's 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation is very impressive. The one oddity is that source noise—particularly of the "chroma" variety—is quite strong at times, spackling the darker parts of the picture with tiny red and blue dots. Even this might be considered an aesthetic decision, however, and besides, the noise isn't really visible unless you have an exceptionally large screen or stand close to your monitor, pixel-peeping. There's also some noticeable softness in occasional shots, but on the whole, the image is sharp and detailed. Color is excellently reproduced too, vivid and dream-like, with balanced contrast. It looks to me like Fox's Blu-ray is true to intent—no DNR smearing, no edge enhancement or artificial boosting—so the disc earns high marks.
Trance Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Trance aims to put you in one, with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that's enveloping and forceful, with great sound design and a pulsing, hypnotic score. Underworld's Rick Smith, a longtime Boyle collaborator, provides the film's music—which melds electronic and orchestral instrumentation—and it sounds fantastic, with clarity through the range, dynamic presence, and a weighty low-end that surges beneath the tensest scenes. On top of this, ambience and effects are layered expertly in the mix, spread throughout the extended speaker configuration. Whether you have a 7.1 setup or a 5.1 arrangement, Trance will fill the room and surround you from all sides, while dialogue emerges cleanly and comprehensibly from the front channels. No issues here whatsoever. The disc includes several dub and subtitle options; see the top of the page for details.
Trance Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Trance Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If Boyle tested audiences' capacity for pain with his nerve-splitting 127 Hours, in Trance, he's out to fry our brains, making us question everything we think we know about the film's characters and their motivations. Some folks will be into this—and the film definitely has its pleasures— while others might find it a style-over-substance Möbius strip, so circular and insular that it's hard to properly enjoy. Personally, I found it fun but un- engaging on any level besides the superficial thrills and gorgeous cinematography. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release looks and sounds great, though, and comes with some fine special features, so if you're a longtime Danny Boyle fan—and you enjoy twisting, looping stories—it's ultimately a worthwhile purchase.
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