Iâ€™d like to think Iâ€™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. Itâ€™s a fairly exhilarating experience at first, but by the end, that exhilaration turns into exhaustion. But itâ€™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 Simonâ€™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 Simonâ€™s noggin than just the location of the painting, and the hypnotist might have her own motives for tinkering around with Simonâ€™s brain.
"Trance" hooks the audience almost immediately with a furious flurry of excitement. Boyle drops the viewers right into Simonâ€™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 Boyleâ€™s signature kinetic edits and saturated color scheme.Â
When the film moves into the hypnotistâ€™s ĂĽber-modern office and Simonâ€™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 Boyleâ€™s early hits, including "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting") continually pile on the twists, backstabbings, dream realities and revelations.
Itâ€™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 whatâ€™s happening when the movieâ€™s maze-like trail of breadcrumbs continually leads to dead ends. When Boyle and companyâ€™s befuddling roller coaster eventually chugs to a stop, they seem aware that theyâ€™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 audienceâ€™s hand, true answers are few and unsatisfying.
The ride ends up not particularly engrossing, but thanks to Boyleâ€™s direction, "Trance" is at least interesting. Every time the storyâ€™s convolutions threaten to drag the movie down, he summons a memorable image or sequence Ââ€“ a man getting buried alive, a corpse talking despite missing everything from the nose up â€“ that made me wish I cared more.
His hyperstylized visuals also actually fit with the filmâ€™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 Ralstonâ€™s experience. There, he was a burden. Here, heâ€™s a boon. In the hands of a less adventurous director, "Trance" couldâ€™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 doesnâ€™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.Â
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 26, 2015
Adapted from the 2005 memoir of the same name, "True Story" plays like an intriguingly well-paved road to nowhere. The movie certainly presents plenty of interesting pieces: two actors - Jonah Hill and James Franco - playing against type but perfectly cast, a post-Oscar nomination Felicity Jones and a bizarre real story. Part by part, it's fairly engaging, but when it comes time to add everything together, the final sum is as nondescript as its title.
Published April 23, 2015
Lord Huron doesn't quite trek to the stars like it said it might on its new album "Strange Trails," but the folk band is still going places. Its dreamy musical vistas have nabbed a big audience -- so much so that demand moved the band's return to The Pabst Theater on Saturday, April 25 over to the Riverside. Before then, I got a chance to chat with frontman Ben Schneider about "Strange Trails," the stories that come with it and going to space (at some point).
Published April 22, 2015
I've had some less than flattering things to say about found footage in recent years, calling it things like "the worst of today's low budget Hollywood filmmaking" and "a thing that shouldn't exist anymore." So let's all take a moment and marvel at the fact that in the new techno-horror flick "Unfriended," the found footage-esque visual gimmick not only works, but it's the best part of the movie. The result isn't much for scares, but it is scarily entertaining.
Published April 21, 2015
Welcome back to Unceremonious Overqualified Movie Dump Theatre. The most recent entry: "Child 44," which features an impressive roster of stars but was cut down to a mere 510 theaters just a few weeks before its release. It was a bad omen and unfortunately an accurate one as well, as the apparent lack of confidence from the studio equals a lack of quality on the screen.
Published April 20, 2015
The Maine is currently on the road right now, touring in support of its latest album "American Candy," released just last month on March 31. Its current tour lands at The Rave on Wednesday, April 22. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Jared Monaco about the new album, as well as his appreciation for The Rave and ... NSYNC.
Published April 18, 2015
Before the fairy tale riff "Peter and the Starcatcher" starts its run at the Milwaukee Rep on Tuesday, April 21, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with director Blake Robison about this particular Peter Pan retelling, making actors fly and why revisionist fairy tales are currently all the rage.
Published April 17, 2015
The Wisconsin State Fair's Main Stage lineup this summer features some of the biggest names the celebration has wrangled up in recent note. And the biggest of the bunch - or at least certainly the most unusual - is tightrope artist extraordinaire Nik Wallenda. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk one-on-one with the stuntman about preparing for another life-threatening performance and being in a highwire family dynasty that shows no sign of stopping.
Published April 17, 2015
The Riverside's distant past will become the present as the legendary theater will play host to two screenings of the beloved 1942 classic "Casablanca" Friday and Saturday night. And to complete the blast to the past vibe of the event, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's famous score alongside the movie.
Published April 15, 2015
Eugene Ionesco's 1950 play "The Bald Soprano" - the first the famed playwright ever wrote - is an absurdist classic. It's one of the most performed shows in France with a permanent repertory spot at Theatre de la Huchette since 1957 and a large number of interpretations. It's safe to say, however, that few to none of those interpretations featuring digital actors getting beamed in like "Star Trek" characters.
Published April 14, 2015
The Blue Man Group is famous for several things: funky instruments, those old Intel ads, Tobias Funke proclaiming that "I blue myself!" on "Arrested Development" and, of course, the whole being covered in blue paint thing. But one of the crucial elements of the Blue Man Group is that they don't talk. So imagine my surprise in getting to interview a Blue Man (at least the transcription would be easy).