Blu-ray Review: Trance (2013)

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Following his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Oscar-nominated 127 Hours (2010), director Danny Boyle returns to his roots with the trippy Trance. Not only is this the first time a Boyle-directed film was written by John Hodge since The Beach (2000), it also shares the same icily detached aura that characterized early Boyle/Hodge collaborations like Shallow Grave (1994). Unfortunately, Trance’s fractured narrative, “what’s reality and what isn’t” ambiguity, and wholly unlikeable characters all add up to a film that is difficult to embrace. In the end, the film is too clever for its own good, intent on telling a story that trades emotional resonance for surreal twists.

It gets off to a great start, with art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) giving us a concise primer on the theft of valuable paintings. The fast-paced sequence recalls that great stretch in Scorsese’s Casino, as we see the path that casino cash takes from the gaming floor to the vault and beyond. Scored with throbbing techno music, we glimpse the progress that has been made since the days when thugs could simply walk into an auction house, punch out the personnel, and leave with a fortune in art. No sooner do we have a basic understanding of modern anti-theft techniques employed by auctioneers than we are hit by an art robbery in progress. Is Simon in on it? Everything happens so fast, his level of participation isn’t entirely clear.

Trance 2 (380x253) (2).jpgTurns out he was involved, but after trying to double-cross his accomplices he winds up with a nasty blow to the head. After recovering, he can’t recall where he stashed the painting (worth millions of pounds) he helped boost. Franck (Vincent Cassel), head of the robbers, hires a hypnotherapist to help guide Simon through his own memory. That’s where things start to simultaneously get interesting and confusing. Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) proves quite resourceful, quickly figuring out that Simon isn’t looking for his car keys (the reason given when he set up his hypnotherapy session with her). What follows is a convoluted, contorted puzzle of a story that charts the obsessive relationship that develops between Simon and Elizabeth. The main point of interest in Trance is trying to piece the puzzle together and figure out what really happened. Like so many movies founded on surprise twists, it eventually collapses under the weight of its strained, implausible conceits.

The highly-stylized visuals of Trance look spectacular on Blu-ray in Fox’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer. The cinematography of Anthony Dodd Mantle (an Oscar winner for lensing Boyle’s Slumdog) is bathed in cool blues and lurid reds, all of which is well represented in this high definition presentation. Even better than the visual appearance is the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix. For a pure sensory experience, the many shortcomings of Trance are almost worth overlooking just to bask in this immersive soundtrack. Rick Smith’s bass-heavy score is vitally important to the film’s atmosphere. The music is truly enveloping, utilizing all channels while delivering fiercely aggressive low-end to the LFE channel.

Trance 1 (380x253).jpgNot a huge selection of extras accompany Trance but there are a few interesting pieces. “The Power of Suggestion” is a 34-minute ‘making of’ featurette that does a good job of covering the production process. The 15-minute “Danny Boyle Retrospective” is self-explanatory, with the director looking back on several of his previous films. It’s too short to be of much use, but I imagine if you’re new to Boyle’s work this will provide some inspiration to check out his back catalog (much of which is far superior to Trance). There are also a handful of deleted scenes, unlikely to be very interesting except for huge Trance enthusiasts.

Distinctive audio/presentation isn’t enough to save Trance from its own ambitions. Instead of providing a rewarding challenge, the intentional disorientation of its storytelling becomes tedious. Danny Boyle is a great filmmaker, capable of far greater depth of feeling than exhibited here, which makes Trance all the more depressing.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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