Thursday, April 18, 2013


TRANCE         C           
Great Britain  (101 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Danny Boyle

While there’s no question that Danny Boyle can make a Hollywood film with his eyes closed, it’s never a good thing to simply watch him waste his talent on superfluous films like this one, which certainly showcases his demonstrable skills, but to what end?  While this is essentially a copycat drama, one that owes its existence to Christopher Nolan’s puzzle movies MEMENTO (2000) and INCEPTION (2010), it feels exactly like a fake, carbon copy imitation, lacking the exhilaration of the original, which at least originated in the head of the writer/director.  Boyle seems inclined to match many of the same technical skills, seamlessly blending dreams, memory, and reality to the point where they are often indistinguishable, where the viewer is caught up in a mental labyrinth of no escape, wondering throughout which version of reality will prevail, as the director loves to tease the audience with multiple possibilities.  Unfortunately, borrowing heavily from the formula of other successful movies has become conventional Hollywood entertainment, basically hand-me-down thrills, where little effort has gone into creating anything new.  The result is a slick looking product onscreen, but overly formulaic, where what’s lacking are memorable characters, an essential ingredient in a film with human interaction, but there’s none of that here.  Even with name stars, this entire cast is forgettable, as none of the performances stand out and there isn’t an ounce of tension or suspense throughout.  Despite the hoops the story jumps through, so obviously wanting to be a sophisticated, mind-bender, the film just never generates any interest.  Instead it feels like painting by the numbers, where everyone does a credible job, but nothing feels inspired.  Even the interweaving of the narrative feels tired and worn out, not fresh and inventive, as no one really cares about any of the characters, so by the end, none of it really matters, as it all feels so conventional. 

Two men are at odds throughout, caught up in a heist gone wrong, where one character, James McAvoy’s Simon, seeped in gambling debt, attempts to steal a valuable painting at an art auction, while the man he tries to steal it from, a sleazy lowlife gangster Franck (Vincent Cassel), catches him in the act and lands a haymaker across the chin, causing amnesia, where throughout the film Simon can’t remember where he hid the stolen painting.  After losing a finger or two to tortuous methods, Franck is inclined to believe he really can’t remember, which calls for desperate measures—hypnosis.  Enter Rosario Dawson as the calm, soft-spoken hypnotherapist Elizabeth, whose mix of sexual allure and soothing voice instantly sends Simon into a hypnotic state, where the rest of the film tests the audience’s patience, as the storyline weaves in and out of his altered states.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth joins up with Franck and his gang of thieves, apparently to split the profits of what is likely a multi-million dollar work of art.  While it all seems to blend together too smoothly, as everything in this new alliance goes without a hitch, except Simon keeps losing his focus and concentration, no doubt due to the stress from the fact these men are bound and determined to kill him once they get the information out of him.  Elizabeth keeps wafting back and forth as one of the gang, but she also has a man totally at her mercy during a submissive state, where she can program literally anything into his head.  While continually leading Franck on, vowing allegiance to his criminal mentality, offering him sexual favors as well, she also plays up her sexual allure with the patient, thinking if Simon gets what he wants, then he’ll reveal to her what she wants, which is the information.  In this way, Elizabeth becomes a blatant sex object throughout the film, both in fantasy and reality, where Rosario Dawson has an interesting nude scene with Simon, where she’s the projection of his fantasies, but the surreal nature of his fears keeps intervening, altering the landscape while constantly shifting the tenuous dynamic between the two of them.  

What seems like a romantic love triangle between Elizabeth and both men is played out against a myriad of repressed and forgotten memories, where Elizabeth’s own motives continually shift throughout the film, growing out of control, developing her own personal side story of events with Simon leading up to the art heist, so while she’s attempting to unravel the truth about where the painting it hidden, she’s also got some ulterior motive about erasing his other memories, wiping the past clean, literally lifting the storyline from Michel Gondry’s ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), apparently thinking the public had forgotten.  Elizabeth’s over the top conversion from quasi therapist who’s not against turning herself into a sex object with a patient to a mercilessly powerful, spurned lover who would turn hypnosis into some kind of tyrannical mind control is something you’d more likely see from Ming the Merciless in a cheap sci-fi movie attempting to take control of the entire universe.  This storyline abomination changes everything that came before, where there isn’t a single sympathetic character anywhere in the movie, making everyone out for themselves, so what’s the point of all the plot twists?  But as the audience quickly loses interest in the various versions of reality and dreams and wish fulfillments, all that’s left is the ultimate showdown where they spend a gazillion dollars on blowing things up and special effects, all designed in the name of Hollywood entertainment.  Instead of the blur of fast action explosions and demolition that passes for conventional movie entertainment these days, this one instead delves into the deconstruction of thought, where the director gets to perform technical trickery with the camera and various editing schemes, but he’s simply omitted the human element.  When there’s no one left to care about, what’s to sustain the interest in the film?  As it goes through its various machinations and transformations, it just feels like such a con job, like it’s the audience that’s getting ripped off.  And unfortunately, that’s the reality that matters, as this movie is little more than contrived manipulation, making a sucker out of the audience by giving them old, retrodden material at the same price you pay for something new.  For a director with the stature of Danny Boyle, this is the ultimate disappointment, as this is little more than a commercial sell out.     

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