Danny Boyle’s Trance

Our very good friend Jake Bevan makes his Raccoon debut! Kicking off by analysing Danny Boyle’s Trance isn’t a bad way to introduce himself, is it now?

What better to do than spend four hours on a Wednesday night watching James McAvoy on the big screen? A particularly hard question to answer, especially in Leeds, where everyone knows nothing happens past five o’clock.

First up was Welcome to the Punch, a British film as British as can be; cops, gangsters, blood and swearing, but luckily no Jason Statham. Instead, McAvoy fills the boots of Max Lewinsky, the obsessive cop after Jacob Sternwood, the untouchable criminal played with ease by Mark Strong. The opening scenes follow Max aggressively pursuing Sternwood and his 3 accomplices, setting him up as a hard as nails British Dirty Harry, chasing the gang through empty, and eerily quiet London streets, to the extent that 3 minutes into this film you already think he’s unstoppable. Well, that is until you realise this is London, and he has no gun. I’m no expert in pursuing a criminal but I’m quite sure the odds are stacked against you if all four, motorbike riding gang members are armed with assault rifles, and you have a car and its radio, which you choose to abandon in order to pursue on foot down underground tunnels, even if you do momentarily gain the upper hand. Now, if this was a Statham movie we’d be happy in the knowledge he’d kick the first motor bike into the other 3, and the bullets wouldn’t dare hit him, but alas you know our dear hero of the film needs to get hurt, and that’s almost the last we see of that confident young gun for the rest of the film.

Three years later, Max is as close to washed up anyone in the cinema would care to see. Sternwood is long gone and enjoying life in Iceland, until his son decides to get himself shot, and using the casualty as bait the police wait for the man who got away to come and give them their final shot at completing their failed task. What’s clear throughout this film is Sternwood is ahead of the cops and Max all the way through. Selling this film as the two being nemesis’ is ultimately misleading as it suggests they’re of sort equals. Yes, from the first few minutes you certainly get the impression that this is a possibility, but the ramifications of the injury McAvoy’s character sustains that night, both physically and mentally, render the idea of Max ever being the character he was at the start of the film pretty hopeless. As much as this makes Welcome to the Punch a far different film it seems to sell itself as, it certainly makes the juxtaposition of the two main characters less black and white, joining together against common foe and whether or not this is new territory for films –it’s not, by the way- the capabilities of both actors at least make it gripping to watch.

I went into the cinema expecting a simple but gritty British film, no breaking any moulds or treading new territory in respect to world cinema, but certainly something with no gaping plot holes or characters which exist to make bad decisions. It is a flawed film, and Max’s persistence for chasing armed murderers, this time with a bad knee is far from being a master class in good ideas, although the film tries to use this recurring situation as a larger plot theme.

The character of Max could be used to describe the film; frustrated, angry and unfulfilled, however much potential he possesses on a whole. Despite being comfortably directed, with a relatively solid story, its clichéd predictable moments don’t allow the film to be elevated to the status of a film such as Harry Brown, and is left out there with the likes of The Sweeney and Blitz, not as good as it should have been. But most people will realise what sort of film they are going to see and ultimately it’s a very watchable film, with great performances from a pleasantly British cast, McAvoy and Strong making sure a film which is far from original, always remains fresh when they’re on the screen. Peter Mullen makes good support as does Johnny Harris, once again playing a horrid bastard, to the extent you wonder what he gets up to not on set.

For some reason, after the sweets and drink had long gone, the late night showing of the new Danny Boyle film Trance seemed appealing. A film revolving around an art auctioneer called Simon could be mighty boring, but not when he likes gambling and thinks it’s a great idea to organise a heist of a Goya painting worth around £25 million. Some would say it becomes more interesting when he double crosses the gang, gets knocked unconscious and forgets what he did with the valuable canvas.

It was hard to know what to expect going into a film involving hypnosis, art and Danny Boyle; a director who is arguably at his best when he has characters confined within a close proximity of each other.  Although, not an original concept, it is in fact a remake of 2001 film of the same name, Boyle does translate Joe Ahearne’s TV movie convincingly to the big screen. With many trademarks of being a Boyle film, his first film back since suddenly become a British treasure, after his brilliant handling of the Olympic ceremony, Trance seems to have gone under the radar somewhat. Shame, because it is quite a treat, enough to justify 4 hours in a cinema at least.

It’s hard to analyse the plot without revealing anything more than I should. As you might expect from the title, trailer, and even the poster, the film twists and turns through the conscious and subconscious of Simon. His relationship with Franck, played charismatically by Vincent Cassell, is quite intriguing, as the ratio of hero and villain significantly shifts as the film plays out. Franck is the leader of the gang Simon recruits to help in his heist, who doesn’t take too kindly for the betrayal of Simon, who knocks Simon unconscious and causes Simon to forget where he’s actually hidden the painting, follow so far? It becomes apparent, after some graphic scenes of torture, which make you wonder if James McAvoy enjoys his characters being seriously injured, that this method will never make him remember; so they recruit the lovely assistance of Elizabeth to extract the information from Simon’s cloudy mind. If it sounds a bit too much like inception territory for you, then relax now as that’s as far as the similarities go. Trance spends more time developing characters than bending scenery, and has fun whilst doing so. You can’t help but think of Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting when listening to McAvoys narration in early parts of the film, possibly a hint that he walks into the sunset with more cash than he deserves? Something you’re kept aware of throughout the film is the amount of possible outcomes, which means there’s a risk Boyle and co could make wrong decisions along the way. It wouldn’t be witchcraft to guess certain people aren’t as innocent as they first appear, but I doubt anybody will be guessing the final 15 minutes, a strong revelation for the ending, even if the final climax to the action isn’t as bold as it had the potential to be.

A very slick film, which won’t be free from criticism, but then again, it’s rare that a film which covers a complex line of enquiry not having critics trying to pick it apart within an inch of its life. It seems to be a trademark of Boyle to make interesting intense films, disregarding small details in certain shots as not important – such as there being no holes in the ceiling in Shallow Grave, after Christopher Eccleston takes up living the attic, or how a London taxi can mount a pile of cars in 28 Days Later, which aren’t overly important in the story, but you sometimes worry he might disregard too much and endanger the film. Although in a career spanning over 20 years he’s proven to be very diverse and consistent, certainly a director British cinema should be proud to call their own. So here’s to hoping on repeat viewing Trance stays a fast paced, intriguing, clever film; certainly one you’d want to watch again. Or if you just want to spend the £7 to see McAvoy and Rosario Dawson naked on the big screen, well that’s up to you.


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