Monday, April 15, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: TRANCE Wants to Be Great, and Very Nearly Is

When Inception became a huge hit and fully integrated itself into our popular consciousness, I was extremely excited for the wave of stylish science fiction Christopher Nolan's masterpiece would usher in. We've had a few good successors (Looper is the best that currently comes to mind) but Trance is the first film that completely owes its existence to Inception. While it's still doing it's own thing (and doing it quite well), the similarities do skate extremely close enough that someone crying, "Derivative!", would have a lot of ammunition for their argument. Just the framing device of a heist and delving into the subconscious are enough to equate both pictures together.

But it's tone that really sets the two films apart. While Inception is a cold and methodical Bond movie, Trance is a pulse-pounding Danny Boyle character piece through and through. The pre-credits sequence immediately hooks you in and gets you invested in Simon (James McAvoy), an art auction employee who helps steal a painting but, due to some blunt force trauma from his gang leader Frank (Vincent Cassel), can't remember where he stashed it. After some friendly finger torture, the gang decides to let hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) try and unlock his forgotten memory.

All three principal actors do a good job, but it's McAvoy who deserves special recognition. The arc his character undergoes takes him through an amazing range, and Simon ends up being an increasingly more complicated and multi-faceted person than you are led to believe during the earlier parts of the film. When his character takes a short backseat so the movie can focus more on Elizabeth and Frank, his missing presence is definitely felt. That's not to belittle Dawson or Cassel, but McAvoy is just so charming and electric that you don't want there to be a scene without him. But, both Elizabeth and Frank do get at least one or two scenes that help paint them as truly three dimensional characters and not just the romantic interest and the mob heavy. Dawson uses her usual brand of confidence well, and it pays off by the movie's end by showing her at her most vulnerable. Cassel does his patented creeper schtick, but actually gets a nice arc of his own that helps humanize him more than you would expect.

The look of the film is dazzling, with some very cool transitions for the hypnosis scenes. I actually wish there had been more time spent in Simon's head, since the few trips we take are both gorgeous and revealing in a purely visual way. There is one standout gag during a hypnosis (or was it a dream?) scene that, even though it was revealed in the red-band trailer, was jaw-droppingly effective. The movie could have used more bizarre and deranged moments like it (there is one other example, but it's equally short-lived). I hope that there's going to be some more ethereal bits on the deleted scenes portion of the DVD (or Blu-ray or Betamax, whatever your preferred format).

For the most part, the pace is practically non-stop until the aforementioned focus on Elizabeth and Frank. It's a very short lull, and a necessary one in order to give those characters some layers, but it's still noticeable. Even with that lull, the film is almost flawlessly structured, keeping things at a healthy beat without sacrificing character development or interest in the plot. If there's one aspect of the film that is unrelentingly brilliant, it is the score and music, which is almost constantly present. Composer Rick Smith had me rhythmically fidgeting during every pivotal sequence, and his score gave the movie a lot of its momentum.

The ending of the film is unfortunately predictable (for me, at least), but that actually doesn't manage to take away the emotionally thrilling impact the climax is going for. However, there is a major plot point (which I won't get into for fear of spoilers. We can spoil away in the comments section though!) that adds fuel to the Inception-inspired fire and yanked me out of the movie a bit. There's even an extremely similar ambiguous "happy" ending that no one could argue doesn't remind them of the final shot of Inception. Even though their tones are almost polar opposites, these two movies do share some similar strands of DNA.

Still, even if it has trouble establishing its individuality, Trance is an engrossing watch. It's well-structured, filled with great actors and is a joy to look at. James McAvoy and his character Simon are worth the price of admission. It's also my favorite Danny Boyle film he's directed since Trainspotting (28 Days Later lovers, let's have a discussion in the comments). But, it doesn't leave you with a burning urge to re-examine the film a second time. If it would've been a tad bit weirder and less...okay I have to say it, derivative, it might have been truly great. It will just have to accept being very good.

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