I’d like to think I’m a fairly smart guy (when it comes to movies, not calculus or anything like that), but "Trance" eludes me. "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle creates a puzzle in which each piece is another, smaller puzzle, and every couple of minutes, the pieces change shape, and you have to start all over again. It’s a fairly exhilarating experience at first, but by the end, that exhilaration turns into exhaustion. But it’s still an experience.
The movie certainly gets off to a crackling start. Simon (James McAvoy) is a fine art auctioneer and the inside man for a band of thieves, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel from "Black Swan"), hoping to steal a valuable Goya painting. He manages to nab the painting, but during the heist, he gets knocked in the head and wakes up forgetting where he put the prize.
After politely asking and then not-so politely pulling out Simon’s fingernails, Franck proposes a new solution: sending Simon to a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) who will unlock the secrets in his brain. However, there are more secrets tucked away inside Simon’s noggin than just the location of the painting, and the hypnotist might have her own motives for tinkering around with Simon’s brain.
"Trance" hooks the audience almost immediately with a furious flurry of excitement. Boyle drops the viewers right into Simon’s brain as he talks about the history of art thievery, the security measures of his establishment and how he intends to foil them. With its dark wry humor, criminal underworld menace and snappy pace, the first act plays like a Guy Ritchie caper that graduated from the grimy streets to the art house, mixed with a healthy serving of Boyle’s signature kinetic edits and saturated color scheme.
When the film moves into the hypnotist’s über-modern office and Simon’s amnesia-addled mind, however, it turns into an even more complicated version of "Inception." Writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge (the latter wrote many of Boyle’s early hits, including "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting") continually pile on the twists, backstabbings, dream realities and revelations.
It’s a fun, intricate little puzzle at first, but after a while, the constant plot turns and detours leave the viewer disoriented and exhausted. It gets progressively more difficult to care about our characters (all well-acted, mind) and what’s happening when the movie’s maze-like trail of breadcrumbs continually leads to dead ends. When Boyle and company’s befuddling roller coaster eventually chugs to a stop, they seem aware that they’ve lost most of the audience, forcing the script to spend most of the last act having Dawson sloppily explain what the hell just happened.
The saddest part? Even with Dawson holding the audience’s hand, true answers are few and unsatisfying.
The ride ends up not particularly engrossing, but thanks to Boyle’s direction, "Trance" is at least interesting. Every time the story’s convolutions threaten to drag the movie down, he summons a memorable image or sequence – a man getting buried alive, a corpse talking despite missing everything from the nose up – that made me wish I cared more.
His hyperstylized visuals also actually fit with the film’s surreal mental hijinx, unlike in his last film, "127 Hours," in which his antsy storytelling and visuals clashed with the isolation and tedium of Aron Ralston’s experience. There, he was a burden. Here, he’s a boon. In the hands of a less adventurous director, "Trance" could’ve been a dull exercise in confused frustration instead of an intriguing exercise in confused frustration.
I imagine "Trance" falls into the category of movies that make more sense after repeated showings, but frankly, it doesn’t leave me with much reason to return. A good puzzle makes you want to finish the entire thing and fill in every gap, even when you know what the final image will be. "Trance" is a puzzle you tinker around with for a while and, after putting a few border pieces together, put it back in the box. A movie should make you feel more than just a sense of accomplishment.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 31, 2014
It's not unusual for artists and writers to revisit some of their past works and explore new sides of the characters they've brought into the world. In Lesley Kagen's case, however, her latest work - the e-novella "The Undertaking of Tess" - is revisiting characters that haven't even been introduced yet.
Published July 30, 2014
"Hercules" not only bounds over the previously set bar but easily stands on its own right as surprisingly solid B-movie entertainment, a sort of sword-and-sandals variation of the John Wayne classic "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" that cleverly hints at subverting and deconstructing its titular legend and the process of mythmaking. It's also a movie in which The Rock throws a horse.
Published July 28, 2014
The haunting music and beauty of "The Phantom of the Opera" - now playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts - can still summon shivers, even right in the middle of the dog days of summer.
Published July 26, 2014
For just two guys, Royal Blood is certainly making a lot of noise. With the band's debut album set to arrive next month, the raucous duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher is now on the road, with a stop at The Rave Monday, July 28 next up on the schedule. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Thatcher about the band's origins, its inspirations and the all-too-deservedly forgotten '90s band Aqua.
Published July 24, 2014
Every now and then, the writers here at OnMilwaukee.com decide to give other, unique jobs a try. Some have tried cheesemaking. Others the ballet. Me? Well, I fought in the Civil War.
Published July 22, 2014
"The Purge: Anarchy" finds DeMonaco coming closer to turning a good premise into an actually good movie. The sequel still feels like a missed opportunity for something smarter, sharper and just overall better, but hey, at least he made a decent horror thriller this time.
Published July 22, 2014
In addition to the successful rotation of the Oriental, the Downer and the Fox Bay movie theaters, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival has recruited the Times Cinema to its Avengers team of old school Milwaukee movie houses.
Published July 21, 2014
Thankfully, "Fire and Rescue" is a step above its predecessor, if only because the movie was actually made for big screen consumption this time. Gone is the stiff, antiseptic joylessness of the first film, now upgraded to mere bland competence. If "Planes" was like eating cardboard, "Fire and Rescue" is slightly more digestible cardboard. So progress?
Published July 19, 2014
All musicians create new music. Even the most derivative Top 40 hit features a new combination of notes and lyrics. Very few, however, can claim to have come up with a whole new genre of sound. Chicago blues extraordinaire Corky Siegel is one of those few.
Published July 17, 2014
As a fan rooting for Argentina in the World Cup, last weekend was likely a little rough for Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne. This upcoming weekend, however, is shaping up much more nicely with two headlining performances set for Festa Italiana.