By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
You know that dream you have…the one you think you’ve had several times before, but when you awake can’t recall the recurrence? Well, if you can explain what that’s all about, you’ll have no trouble following director Danny Boyle’s quasi-linear “Trance,” about a psychologist’s attempt to help some art thieves find a misplaced masterpiece.
Formed of numerous story striations, seemingly plopped together to confuse, the film’s elusive nature does work to draw our interest, but in the final analysis, not all that honestly. Although there are several good ideas and well crafted threads of mystery, Mr. Boyle plays dirty pool in that he never really sprinkles enough crumbs for us to track.
Then, in the last twenty or so minutes, emulating a classic British style of plot resolution that dovetails to the climax, he unravels what cogent details were heretofore denied us. To which I decry, Poppycock! You made me watch all that, thinking I might figure out what the heck was going on, when all long you were pocketing the key information.
Serving as somewhat of a saving grace, Rosario Dawson as the therapist/hypnotist supplies a compelling, take charge sexiness to the doings, as well as an interesting antithesis to the rough-edged brigands who engage her services. Supposedly drawn randomly from the phone listings, there’s the first so-called clue to mull. It gets thick.
Oh, it starts simply enough. Simon, credibly portrayed by James McAvoy, is a mild-mannered art auctioneer. Because of a weakness to be divulged at a later interstice, he falls in with a bad bunch and agrees to help them heist Francisco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” But things go amiss, and in the upshot Simon gets severely bopped on the head.
It’s bad enough for the young man that he’s sustained an injury. That he can’t remember where he hid the purloined treasure puts him in deep Dutch with his iniquitous new pals. Everyone knows amnesia is rubbish, exclaims Franck, the determined head honcho, played with a dangerous edge by Vincent Cassel. All the same, he wants the painting.
So welcome to Dr. Elizabeth Lamb’s couch, where via Miss Dawson’s fine performance, we’re convinced she’s worked wonders curing addictions of every sort through her estimable powers of hypnotic suggestion. Simon becomes a regular. But wait a minute …they start to get involved. We didn’t figure on this, and that’s just the first bombshell.
Matters and ideas intermesh as the doc probes into Simon’s psyche, divulging either fact or fantasy, spewed in no chronological order that we can fathom. It can get miffing. But while director Boyle exhibits neither the devilish insight of a Poe nor the clever irony of an O. Henry, he furnishes just enough curiosity to keep us from quitting on him.
Chief among these gauzy compellers is the deja vu feeling we glimpse in Dr. Lamb’s eyes as she delves deep into the story’s suppositions, a journey made even more complicated to us by filmmaker Boyle’s Lazy Susan-style of narrative. To and fro through the film’s time continuum he scatters bits of story for us to eagerly lunge at.
But, just in case that sort of exposition isn’t challenge enough, especially for those filmgoers who like a good go at Rubik’s Cube each morn with their Eggs Benedict, the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma is at times mixed with chimera. Yep, just when you think you have a handle on it, a character wakes up startled. It was just a dream.
Or was it? Maybe dreams are, after all, a window to the past, the future, our true feelings and gosh knows what else. It’s a convenient, hopeful idea, and one of the subtly implied conjectures that serve among the movie’s many attempts to be profound whilst otherwise playing fast and loose with our indulgence. Of course doubters will get antsy.
Still, for those who just haven’t been able to shake that penchant for amateur psychology honed in late night dorm chats during their sophomore year at college, there is much gristle to chaw. A perfect pastime for egomaniacs, I for one floated off to an epiphany about my relationship with Mom. Eureka! I think my reviews will be much better now.
In other words, there’s too much of the emperor’s new clothes in this movie’s wardrobe. I’m willing to take the ride in any funhouse, as long as the surprises within are worth the buildup. Granted, there are some unexpected turns and a few thought provoking notions. However, I’d have to be hypnotized to give “Trance” any more than 2 & ½ popcorns.
“Trance,” rated R, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by Danny Boyle and stars James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. Running time: 101 minutes
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