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 Jan. 24, 2015
It doesn't take long into George Lucas' bizarre new animated movie "Strange Magic" to ask "What the heck am I watching?" Not shortly after, that question turns into "Why the heck am I still watching this?" It's hard to rationalize a good answer for either.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
After the Sony hack forced "The Interview" out of its prime Christmas release slot, "Blackhat" seemed to be perfectly primed to take its place. Alas, Universal kept the film in January. And maybe that was for the best, because even with its timely sounding synopsis, "Blackhat" plays like a relic, recalling less the anxiety of today's headlines and more the warmed-over memories of yesterday's forgettable action junk and silly techno-trash.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
A day before the Common Council meets to vote on the Milwaukee streetcar plan, advocates and opponents made their final pushes to gain public support or enough signatures for a referendum.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
"Selma" is much more accomplished than "timely" gives it credit - or that its award season release and Important Movie surface may imply. It may appear like yet another Great Man Oscar bait biopic. Instead, it plays exactly like what many of those films are desperately reaching to be: a deeply powerful and deftly nuanced movie, one that beautifully captures the man and his mission with clear eyes, leaving viewers with teary ones thoroughly earned.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
After heading into the heart of the South in "The Beautiful Music All Around Us," the Milwaukee Rep now travels up to Southie in Boston, the home of the Ben Affleck, the Red Sox, pahking the cahr in Hahvahd Yahd and David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People." Taking over the award-winning role of Margie in the Rep's production is Milwaukee actress and director Laura Gordon, but it's not her first go around with the street smart Southie native.
Published Jan. 16, 2015
Every January, the Academy wakes the film-obsessed nation bright and early to present its picks for the best movies of the past year. And every year, it's a three-way tie for headlines between the expected, the exciting and the excrement.
Published Jan. 15, 2015
Bright and early this morning, the joint forces of Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuaron and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs prattled off the 2015 Oscar nominees. "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" lead the pack with nine nominations for each - including Best Picture nods for both.
Published Jan. 14, 2015
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's been called a lot of things over his prodigious career. Light and cartoonish, however, would not likely be two of them. Yet here we are with "Inherent Vice," which goes down satisfyingly like a late night pizza on 4/20.
Published Jan. 13, 2015
Stephen Wade has played many roles throughout his life. He's a scholar. He's an author. He's a musician and a performer, bringing banjo and traditional folk music across the nation in one-man shows - including the Rep's upcoming "The Beautiful Music All Around Us." Arguably his most famous role, however, is as a kind of musical detective, uncovering a nation's musical history that's very much alive and very often hiding in plain sight.
Published Jan. 12, 2015
Hollywood insiders and magazines would have you believe 2014 was a miserable year for movies. And from a financial perspective, yes, they're totally correct. From a quality standpoint, however, 2014 was kind of terrific. Movie critic Matt Mueller breaks down the best (and a few of the worst) the year had to offer.