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Danny Boyle's latest is a blistering head-trip that is pretty darned strong - as long as you don't pay too much attention to it....
Fox / 101 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: July 23, 2013
Trance is a vanity project that allows Danny Boyle the opportunity to show off his hyperkinetic cinematic skills. After wowing the world with his 2012 London Olympics work, a bizarr-o head trip tale like this one gives the Oscar-winning filmmaker an opportunity to throw any kind of high-art responsibility out the window: Trance, if anything, gives the impression of a digital moviemaker having a blast playing around in his aesthetic sandbox.
And Boyle’s one of our only major filmmakers who can pull off material like this with such gravitas. The guy has always found a way to thrive as a style-over-substance auteur, and Trance’s chronologically-complicated scenario leaves him ample space to make the tale as flashy and bombastic as possible. There’s no question that Trance is a mediocre film, but the excitement and schoolkid enthusiasm Boyle harnesses to the thing is enough to make it perhaps the most singularly thrilling dull picture to come around all year.
The theme behind the razzle-dazzle of Trance is art thievery. James McAvoy plays a chap named Simon Newton, who’s an auctioneer placed with the task of selling a Goya painting (Witches in the Air) for what is expected to be tens of millions of dollars. A dude named Franck (the excellent Vincent Cassel) has eyes to steal the painting (along with Simon himself, in a sneaky double-play), but that’s not the only issue at hand: our protagonist is eventually painted as a failed gambler and all-around slippery dude – while keeping Cassel and his cronies at bay is priority number one, Simon himself might just be his own worst enemy.
Trance gets way too big for its britches – especially in its second half – but when it leaves pretense and exposition behind, it has percolating moments of thrilling diversion. Boyle is a heartily mischievous manipulator as a storyteller (every digital bell and whistle possible is used early and often here, it seems), but when the cacophony of his whiz-bang visual symphony really hums, the effect is transcendent. If you make sure your brain stem is only operating at 15% capacity, Trance is burping, staccato fun – just do whatever you can to not analyze it too much.