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 April 19, 2014
Gone is Jude Law's pretty regality; in "Dom Hemingway," the Brit looks rough, and he gleefully tearing into his profane lead role like an untamed wolf that just got its first taste of meat. For Law, it's a chance for him to let loose with a character like never really before. And he most certainly does, with big, audaciously compelling results. The rest of the movie, unfortunately, has a hard time getting on his level, but can you really blame it?
Published April 16, 2014
You never know where you might meet your future bandmates. Maybe you'll meet them through a mutual friend. Maybe it'll be a chance meeting in a railway station. Maybe you'll meet them half a world away. That certainly wasn't the case with Milwaukee rock outfit Commander Tang. In fact, George Phillips didn't even have to leave his front lawn or his Washington Heights block.
Published April 15, 2014
"Sabotage" finds Arnold Schwarzenegger briefly pushing his persona in a new direction. It's not simply that the film is unexpectedly more murder mystery than action thriller; "Sabotage" is easily the meanest, most vulgar and most violent movie on Arnold's resume. Credit where credit is due for trying something new, but considering the film's brainlessly scummy ugliness, it qualifies merely as a not-quite-noble failure.
Published April 15, 2014
Even though Corey Pieper's latest single "One More Time" isn't conventional Milwaukee, it's obvious the up-and-coming pop singer has love for his home city. The musician namedrops "the 414" near the beginning of the track, and the regional callouts - along with shout outs to his Hawaiian heritage - aren't merely for show.
Published April 14, 2014
When Wake Owl first arrived in town, they were at the bottom of a three-band bill at the Cactus Club with their freshly released debut EP, "Wild Country." Since then, their crowds and popularity have only grown, moving up to a $10 Pabst Pub gig last June and now a Friday night headliner gig at Turner Hall Ballroom. And instead of a five-song EP, Cameron and company arrive with a brand new full album, "The Private World of Paradise."
Published April 13, 2014
Much like the first movie, "Rio 2" is colorful and vibrant and cracks a few good jokes here or there. It's a generally enjoyable film, albeit one that feels like several animated features audiences have seen and forgotten long before.
Published April 11, 2014
"Draft Day" is an ad, less for the NFL Draft - though it is conveniently coming up in just a month - and more for the league itself. It's a hopeful attempt to get people to mindlessly consume a sport that's becoming more and more difficult to mindlessly consume. The mildly impressive thing is that, under "Ghostbusters" helmer Ivan Reitman's eye, the light, fluffy football trifle goes down almost as easily as designed.
Published April 9, 2014
Milwaukee got its first taste of TED last year with a TEDx conference - a local, self-organized talk event, run independently but guided from afar by TED - in Harambee. And now, thanks to some ambitious students at UWM, it seems the city will get a second taste of TED.
Published April 8, 2014
A small wooden and plastic model of a stage has now graduated into a full stage, lit with lights and bright, colorful, comic book influenced projections. Superglue will no longer be necessary to keep it together. Now, the stage merely waits for its actors, an audience and a story to unfold. That story is writer David Bar Katz's "The History of Invulnerability," the story of Jerry Siegel and his famous creation: Superman.
Published April 8, 2014
Edward Albee's one-act drama "Zoo Story" is a fairly small production. After all, it features merely two actors, one set - a park - and one necessary set item, a park bench. For the upcoming staging at Marquette University, however, director Grace DeWolffe is working with much more than merely two guys and a bench. In fact, she's got $1.5 million worth of technology to bring her show to life.