I have loads of respect for Danny Boyle. While most filmmakers tend to find a niche and stick to it, Boyle has jumped from genre to genre in chameleonic fashion. From thrillers (Shallow Grave) and horror (28 Days Later) to Sci-fi (Sunshine) and dramatic offerings like Slumdog Millionaire, the much underrated Millions, and, of course, Trainspotting, Boyle has put together one of the most diverse résumés in cinema. With the director’s latest, Trance, Boyle rolls the dice on a trippy heist flick that straddles the line between reality and the subconscious in a way that will certainly prove divisive, even amongst his most avid fans.
James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auction house employee who plays inside man to a gang of thieves led by the mercurial Franck (Vincent Cassel). The thieves’ target is the Goya painting, Witches in the Air, a multi-million dollar piece of which Simon is very fond of (we get a hint of his affinity for the works of the greats during the film’s noirish voiceover, in which Simon waxes philosophical about Rembrandt and the machinations of art theft), and secrets away during the robbery, just before finding himself on the receiving end of a massive blow to the head courtesy of Franck.
When Franck and his men walk away from the auction house without their prize, they blame Simon, who, despite a nasty bout of torture, cannot remember what he did with the painting. This forces Franck to bring in a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who is then tasked with retrieving the painting’s location from Simon’s subconscious. However, Lamb has her own agenda (of course), and uses her abilities to infiltrate Simon’s mind (as well as the gang!). From here on out the line between fantasy and reality is good and truly blurred, and that’s where Trance makes the leap from a formulaic noir/thriller to a full-on mindfuck.
Where Trance will divide audiences is totally dependent on what brand of Boyle they tuned in to see. Fans of his more straightforward offerings will likely embrace the film’s noir/heist element while those who grooved to the equally trippy Sunshine (or bits of his uneven adaptation of The Beach) will probably favor the film’s surreal “trance” moments. Still, neither of Trance’s distinct two halves are Boyle firing on all cylinders, as both are somewhat underwritten and simplistic, and, once he goes “out there” it’s to a such a degree that it oversteps the boundary between pleasantly surreal and downright confounding.
Fox presents Trance on Blu-ray with a 1080p 2.40:1 transfer that is as hypnotic as a session with Dr. Lamb. Shot on myriad digital media, the overall look of the film, itself, varies from scene to scene, but the quality is across-the-board exceptional, with a crisp, exquisitely detailed, and wonderfully vibrant image throughout.
Trance’s 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix is a richly layered masterpiece, with the film’s exciting electro/orchestral score (perfectly suited to a film called Trance, of course) providing a throbbing, reverberating foundation for atmospheric effects and directional cues, and crisp, organic dialogue.
Bonus features include a fairly lengthy collection of deleted/extended scenes (HD) that are really just excess fat trimmed from bits that made it into the final cut. Also included is a Making Of featurette (broken into four segments) that offers a look into the concept, look, storytelling process. Another short featurette offers a retrospective in which Boyle looks back at his previous films (HD).
The most curious extra is a short film entitled Eugene (HD), a short film by director, Spencer Susser (Hesher) that, while entertaining, has nothing to do with Trance whatsoever; not in theme, not in style, not in substance. Hell, I couldn’t even find even a remotely tangential relationship between this and anyone involved in Trance. It’s just…well…here.
Rounding out the bonus features are trailers for this and other Fox releases (HD).
Trance isn’t Boyle at his best, but, even when he’s not at the top of his game, the director always manages to surprise us in some way. With Trance, he’s created a visually arresting and truly engrossing fever dream of a film that plays out like something of a mashup of elements from Boyle’s previous outings. It’s sexy, violent, thrilling, confusing, maddening, and, at times, I wasn’t sure whether I liked the film or not, but I think Trance is one that could completely win me over with repeat viewings. Is that a recommendation? Well, that’s the closest I can give you to one right now.