Trance (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

trance 75It isn’t all bad, but seeing mediocre film after mediocre film from Danny Boyle is so frustrating.

 

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Although his 1996 film Trainspotting is one of my all-time favorites—and one of the movies that taught me that I really just love movies—I don’t really know what to do with director Danny Boyle. His output for the most part is solid, but not as good as I want it to be. I find things to admire when I watch 1994’s Shallow Grave, 2002’s 28 Days Later…, and 2007’s Sunshine; I pretty well outright hated his huge Oscar hit Slumdog Millionaire; and I was pleased with his most recent effort, 2010’s 127 Hours, and hoped that it had him maybe settling into a somewhat more fruitful period of his career. 

With his new film, Trance, however, he seems back to his old tricks. It’s an OK movie. There were things that I liked about it, and I bet a certain type of person will really like it a lot. In the end, though, I think it was average at best, and all these average films are maddening when we’ve known how good a director Boyle is for nearly 20 years now.

Trance is one of those movies that will have been running for a minute or two before you realize you’re watching the movie and not another pre-feature commercial. There are no company logos, and it goes straight into a dull voiceover (from, we soon learn, lead actor James McAvoy), who, it turns out, is describing a heist he’s about to pull at an auction house at which he works: He intends to swipe a multi-million-dollar Goya painting with the help of some shifty cohorts. Once he explains a little, the movie plunges us into the heist action sequence, but the real hook to the plot comes when McAvoy’s character, Simon, successfully steals the painting but forgets where he put it (for reasons that perhaps give away a little too much of the plot for me to have good conscious in revealing here). 

The ringleader of the group, Franck (Vincent Cassel), tries any means necessary to unearth from Simon’s brain the information of where the painting is stashed, which eventually leads them to Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, one of those really good actresses who just seems to never get a role worthy of her talents), a hypnotherapist. And while the film is never quite going where you probably think it is, the territory it goes over feels all too familiar from recent movies. We’re dealing with the nature of memories and fact versus fiction and the like, much like what we’ve seen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, Life of Pi, and countless others lately. And all of those movies were better than Trance is.

In fairness, I liked Trance pretty well for about the first half, but eventually lost interest and never recovered it. The point is that it isn’t all bad, but seeing mediocre film after mediocre film from Boyle is so frustrating; I still haven’t given up the notion that he might have another Trainspotting-level masterpiece in him. And Trance got hit by expectations harder than most of the other ones, given that it’s his first since 127 Hours, which was the best film he’d made in over a decade. So maybe if you’re a Danny Boyle noob you’ll be able to get on board with Trance, but for people familiar with his cinematic par, this is getting really exasperating. | Pete Timmermann

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