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After a blow to the head during his attempted robbery of a $27 million Goya painting, Simon (James McAvoy), a fine-art auctioneer, awakens to find that the painting – and his memory – are missing. Forced by his ruthless partner in crime Franck (Vincent Cassel) to undergo hypnosis, Simon enters into a deadly love triangle with his seductive hypnotist (Rosario Dawson). (From Fox Searchlight’s official synopsis)

Trance
Danny Boyle has won his Oscar when he made Slumdog Millionaire and followed up that win with another nominee in 127 Hours. He’s also already made himself a sci-fi adventure ( Sunshine), a kiddie flick ( Millions), and had huge success with his first and only horror film ( 28 Days Later). It seems he has little left to achieve and he only really has room to fail. Trance does not mark a failure on the level of Boyle’s one definitively bad movie, The Beach, but it does feel like the kind of movie that a filmmaker with little left to prove would make on sabbatical from two massively ambitious, non-film directing projects (the Olympic opening ceremonies and a stage version of Frankenstein). Trance and The Beach are mirror opposites on most production levels ( Trance was made on a smaller budget and had generally low-behind-the-scenes drama the whole way round, unlike The Beach, which was a mess from the word ‘go’), yet they represent the same spirit of filmmaking experimentation (one was Boyle’s first ‘blockbuster,’ the other was his first attempt at directing on-the-fly between other projects) and are similarly admirable in their ambition, despite the fact that they don’t quite work.

Like that other UK-based director of incredibly eclectic output, Ridley Scott, Boyle’s films have often succeeded in spite of the weakness in their screenplays. Trainspotting aside (and it’s a big exception, since Irvine Welsh’s book was considered un-adaptable), none of his work has been particularly impressive in terms of storytelling prowess. Usually Boyle’s films at least make narrative sense, but, like many of Scott’s films, are light on narrative heft, exchanging it (usually quite successfully) for thematic and character depth. Trance was co-written by Joe Ahearne, who also wrote and directed a made-for-TV version of Trance in 2001, and regular Boyle collaborator John Hodge. Reportedly, Ahearne and Boyle had discussed Trance as far back as 1994 and Hodge was brought on for the sake of rewrites. The problem here is less that the movie doesn’t make sense and more that the concept is kind of silly. There are nuggets of brilliance in the story’s ideas, including a satisfyingly dark and unexpected punch-line (that doesn’t quite add up), but the threads really begin to fray as the story is muddied with convoluted ‘did that just happen’ and ‘who’s playing who’ questions.

Trance
Once again, though, the story’s issues are often overridden by Boyle’s outstanding sense of style. The visuals are routinely beautiful and the images impeccably constructed through some very sharp and efficient editing. As an experiment in pure visual storytelling, Trance actually works really well. Slumdog Millionaire did interesting things with its flashback structure, but was generally nailed down to a basic sense of reality. With Trance, Ahearne gives the director a chance to experiment with dream logic. He and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle achieve a lot of surrealistic imagery without many digital effects. The mindscape chaos appears to have been captured largely in-camera and is composited via editing and dissolves. I’m sure there are digital effects invisibly melded into the fabric of these images, but nothing as pricy and in-your-face as what was seen in Christopher Nolan’s similarly-themed and similarly–convoluted Inception. Boyle’s limited cast makes out quite well despite the script’s shortcomings. McAvoy is his usual charmingly sympathetic self and Vincent Cassel presents a delightfully complex anti-villain, but Trance is really Rosario Dawson’s movie. She brings natural power and grace to a role that should crumble under the weight of too many motivational twists.

Trance

Video


Boyle was an early adopter of digital technology when he shot 28 Days Later using non-HD Canon DV cameras. Following Millions and Sunshine (both of which were shot on 35mm film), he hooked up with Mantle. Boyle and Mantle starting mixing several different digital HD formats for Slumdog Millionaire (which won the Oscar for cinematography) and 127 Hours, creating a new visual trademark that carries over into Trance. This 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer does a good job exploiting the subtle and no so subtle differences between the various cameras, including Arri Alexa, Canon EOS, and Phantom HD rigs. The image switches up between styles with relative regularity, including black & white and extra grainy shots, but the base-level image style is definitively digital-looking. It’s unreal in its punchy colour qualities and super-smooth blends, but also very sharp in terms of overall detail and texture. Again, there’s really no such thing as a consistent image type, so some scenes are over-exposed and washed out in terms of overall detail, but even these scenes are quite clean. Sometimes, the palette is broken down to purely orange & teal moments and these moments are kind of ugly, but there’s rarely a case where the artificial hues bleed into each other. The daylight scenes tend to be more warm, lush, and naturally lit, while the most extremely noir-ish sequences are baked in searing reds that cut very sharply against super-deep blacks without blocking them. Contrast levels vary throughout based on the chosen photographic style.

Trance

Audio


Trance comes fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. The film was apparently mixed with the new Dolby Atmos theatrical sound system in mind, which accounts for this track’s aggressive use of the stereo and surround channels. It’s not a consistently action-packed type of mix – it’s a mix that finds directional enhancement in hyper-dynamic versions of more natural sound effects and a mix that depends very much on music. The score was composed by regular Boyle collaborators Rick Smith and his techno group Underworld. The bouncy, energetic music is given an incredibly wide range throughout the channels and is among the busiest musical tracks I’ve ever heard, at least in terms of directional movement. The score swirls around the audience, floats in and out of phase, and even sounds as if it is coming from directly overhead at times, which is especially impressive, given the limits of my 5.1 set-up. And, of course, the LFE gets heavy support from the deep throb of the incessant bass beat. Every once and a while, I found the softer dialogue a little difficult to discern, but I imagine this is an indication that I’m supposed to have cranked the system up until Underworld’s music is blowing out my eardrums.

Trance

Extras


The special features begin with The Power of Suggestion: Making Trance (35:00, HD), a four-part behind-the-scenes featurette. The parts are broken down into Danny’s Film Noir, on the film’s pre-production, shooting the film on sabbatical between the Olympic opening ceremony and Frankenstein stage play, centering a film around a female character, restructuring the script, finding locations, production and costume design, and casting; Hypnotherapy, on the reality of hypnosis and its relation to the film; The Look, on the cinematography and film’s general style; and The Final Rewrite, which wraps up the production process with a look at editing and music. Interviews throughout the featurettes include Boyle (who is super-gracious in the way he keeps saying ‘we,’ instead of ‘I’), producer Christian Colson, co-writer John Hodge, production designer Mark Tildesley, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, clinical psychologist Professor David Oakely, sound recordist Simon Hayes, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, editor John Harris, and cast members Rosario Dawson, James McAvoy, and Vincent Cassel.

The extras continue with seven deleted/extended scenes (16:30, HD), a retrospective look at Boyle’s Fox Searchlight-released films (15:00, HD), and trailers. Things are wrapped up with a short film by Spencer Susser called Eugene (13:10, HD) about an awkward, lovesick man on vacation in Washington who plays a videogame on a laptop that mysteriously appears at hotel room door.

Trance

Overall


Trance doesn’t quite work as the twisty neo-noir it wants to be, but is still an entertaining and stylish movie that reaches some dizzying heights. Viewers that go into the film knowing that Boyle doesn’t succeed in covering all of the script’s more convoluted bits and resulting holes should find plenty to enjoy, especially Anthony Dod Mantle’s digital photography and three strong central performances. It’s a pretty emotionally satisfying experience for people willing to suspend their disbelief, which is an admittedly high order as the film progresses. Fox’s Blu-ray looks great, sounds fantastic, thanks to a complexly mixed musical soundtrack, and features a fair share of brief, but informative extras.

* Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality.


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