The screenshots in this review are taken from a standard-definition source and do not represent the quality of the Blu-ray.
Danny Boyle isn't a filmmaker to rest on his laurels. Directly following his one-two punch of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, Boyle orchestrated the entire opening ceremony for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Boyle shot his latest film, Trance, before the Olympics but completed post-production after the ceremony. Trance is less awards-season Boyle than full-tilt mind warp Boyle. This dizzy, chronologically challenged thriller deliberately misleads its audience with red herrings, false truths and skewed recollections. If you hate that sort of thing - think Memento - then Trance may not be the film for you. Those down for a spin on Boyle's roller coaster will join James McAvoy as art house auctioneer Simon, who steals a painting with colleague Frank (Vincent Cassel) but cannot locate said painting after a blow to his head causes amnesia. Simon visits hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who enters his mind and discovers much more than requested. Trance is gorgeously lensed by Boyle's longtime cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and retains a pulsing energy throughout its 101-minute running time. When the mystery unfolds there are a few excusable holes in the film's logic, and Boyle has again crafted a uniquely gripping film experience that takes an ordinary heist thriller and turns it completely upside down.
Trance opens with a monologue from Simon, who describes the typical procedure for protecting a valuable piece of art should someone try to steal it from the auction block. Simon is the perfect man to circumvent this security (though he admits an inside job is rather cliche) and he steals a Francisco Goya painting, "Witches in the Air," worth millions of dollars. During his escape, Simon encounters Frank as planned, and Frank nabs the painting. To further sell the fiction that he is still working for the auction house, Simon attacks Frank, who pushes this little ruse too far and injures Simon. Cue the amnesia and misplaced painting. From there, Boyle takes viewers on a journey into the mind, as Elizabeth, who proves quite ingenious, hypnotizes Simon in hopes of repairing his broken memory and locating the painting. With Frank and his goons breathing down his back, Simon becomes obsessed with Elizabeth and her soothing brand of alternative therapy.
That Boyle makes hypnotherapy seem at all credible is a huge victory for Trance. Whether or not you believe in the practice, Trance makes it seem completely plausible, especially with the beautiful Dawson leading the sessions. As it steamrolls forward, Trance becomes less about a stolen painting than stolen memories. The three leads begin an uneasy alliance of sorts, and each has his own motivations. Trance quickly gets twisty, and it's best that viewers go in uninitiated. Boyle is a master craftsmen, so even if the story has a few gaps in logic, I never felt like Trance was cheating me. Misdirecting and tricking me at times, sure, but the payoffs are always earned. Had this been a typical art heist film it would have been decidedly less interesting (and likely not directed by Boyle). Trance is a fancy of sorts for Boyle after two prestige films, but there is enough substance to support the style.
McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson all give excellent performances. Whenever I see Cassel in a role like this I wonder why he isn't a bigger star in America. Boyle is adept at creating complex characters, and my opinions about Simon, Frank and Elizabeth fluctuated as the film unspooled. Boyle shoots his beloved London like a high-energy nightclub, and a prominent meeting takes place under the neon sign of the decidedly digital Analog recording studio. I can't stress enough how gorgeous the cinematography is here, and Boyle matches this neon-and-strobe light atmosphere with a pulsating score by Rick Smith of British electronic group Underworld. Trance has moments of over-the-top violence and sexuality typical of Boyle films, and there is plenty of humor amid the drama. Few directors mesh genres as well as Boyle, and it is all but guaranteed that the next Boyle film will at least be unique. Trance is surely a trickster, but it is a wholly entertaining jaunt.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks fantastic, and the transfer preserves all the detail and intensity of the film's digital source. Colors are bright, intense and perfectly saturated. Detail is exceptional throughout, with close-ups and wide shots alike displaying wonderful texture and clarity. Black levels are very strong, and there is only minimal crush. Digital noise is rarely an issue, and there are no signs of edge enhancement or noise reduction.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack positively pulses with the high-energy action and electronic score. Boyle's films always have an interesting sound design, and Trance is no exception. The entire sound field, including the rear speakers and subwoofer, is used to completely immerse the viewer in Boyle's warped reality. Dialogue is crystal clear and balanced perfectly with score and effects. Speaking of effects, they are hard-hitting and diverse. Ambient effects like street noise and rain surround the viewer, and action effects are perfectly bombastic as they roll through the speakers. Rick Smith's score is frequent and impressive, and the electronic music is accompanied by an impressive LFE thump. Overall, this track exceeded my expectations and is one of the best mixes - particularly for a drama - I've ever heard. There are a ton of alternate soundtracks: Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, and Turkish. Subtitle options are extensive and include English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Thai, Turkish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Greek, Hebrew, Korean, Icelandic, Mandarin, Serbian and Slovenian.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a Blu-ray eco-case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. Inside is an insert with a code to redeem an UltraViolet digital copy of Trance. Fox included some nice extras on this new release:
- Deleted Scenes (16:33/HD) - These seven deleted scenes are mostly extensions of scenes in the final cut.
- The Power of Suggestion: Making Trance (33:59/HD) - This four-part documentary provides excellent behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. The piece covers Trance's noir sensibilities and discusses the hypnotherapy at the film's heart.
- Danny Boyle Retrospective (14:56/HD) - This is a brief, surface-level discussion of Boyle's films at Fox Searchlight. The comments on each are succinct, but I did enjoy hearing that Boyle learned from mistakes he made on The Beach, which included trashing the Thai island where the film was shot, and fixed them for location work on Slumdog Millionaire.
- Short Film: Eugene by Spencer Susser (13:07/HD) - This is not part of the Trance universe but is still an interesting short film about a depressed man who finds a laptop that can grant wishes.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:22/HD).
I like that I can count on Director Danny Boyle to craft films that skirt the mainstream. Whether they are prestige films like 127 Hours, in-the-trenches dramas like Trainspotting, or stylish thrillers like Trance, each of Boyle's films offers audiences something new and exciting. James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson are all excellent in Trance, which uses hypnotherapy as a plot device to help McAvoy find the location of a Goya painting he stole. Viewers who hate being misdirected may not enjoy Trance. Otherwise, Boyle's latest is a thoroughly entertaining thriller. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.