It may escape the mind, unless you go back and actually look at his filmography, that Danny Boyle is a surprisingly hard edged filmmaker. After Slumdog Millionaire captured the hearts and trophies of American cinema, and 127 Hours brought light to a story of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, Boyle went on to orchestrate the kick off ceremonies to one of London's proudest moments as host to the world's biggest day in competitive sport. Accolades fell down upon him like the falling sparks of the fireworks set off over Olympic Stadium and if Mr. Boyle wasn't a household name already, he became one as a result.
That's why it's interesting to be reminded of his very edgy body of work up to Slumdog:
Shallow Grave, his debut, is about three roommates in Scotland who take in a fourth, only to have him die of a drug overdose soon after and leave behind a suitcase full of money. Which sends them into a spiral of madness, violence and paranoia.
Trainspotting has had such a huge following since its release it hardly needs an introduction, but basically it's about heroin addicts living in London.
A Life Less Ordinary is a kind of Bonny and Clyde kidnapping road movie.
The Beach is about kids finding a paradise in a remote part of the world and going insane there.
The terrifying film 28 Days Later is a post-apocalyptic horror film about people being infected by a virus that turns them into frothing, flesh hungry maniacs (zombies, though the word isn't used in the film).
And Sunshine is about a group of astronauts going to reignite the sun before it burns out and finding supernatural terror on their way.
The only break in the program was in the form of Millions. A sweet and easy dramady about a boy who finds a million dollars in a satchel and uses it to bring fortune to the less fortunate.
Boyle's career can really be split into two halves, with one side being occupied by the more uplifting, 'let's have some faith in humanity' pictures and on the other side the uglier, more cynical group of crime and cruelty pics.
Trance, his follow up to 127 Hours, would definitely find itself in the latter company.
On the surface Trance is a movie about a man with a gambling problem who cahoots with some underworld figures to steal a priceless painting for a man who in return will wipe his very steep gambling debts free. But, as so often happens in capers of this sort, things don't go precisely as planned and after the gambler gets a bonk on the head, it results in his absence of memory in regards to the location of the painting, much to chagrin of his partners in crime. So they send him to a professional hypnotist, hoping she can unlock the fractured memory. From that point, things get twisty and turn-y and there's not a lot more I can say about it without pulling the curtain on some plot points that, trust me, would be much more fun to uncover yourself by just seeing the movie.
James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel play the three lead roles. All excellent performances, all brave roles to take, particularly for Dawson, who exposes every square inch of her skin more than once in the movie.
Full frontal nudity isn't as shocking today as it would've been even ten years ago, but it isn't seen in every movie that hits a multiplex, it isn't seen in hardly any of them actually and there's still an oddness to it. Let me just say though, that the nudity in this film is not gratuitous, it does not exist to arouse or shock, but as a natural ingredient to the plot, an appropriate facet of the narrative. The violence in the film, likewise, isn't necessarily gratuitous and there's really only a few instances of it, but when it does happen, it's quite brutal and even a bit shocking. It fits the mood of the picture though.
Danny Boyle, like his filmmaking American contemporary, Quentin Tarantino, shines brightest when he's splicing music onto the images on screen. More than just about any other filmmaker in the business today (except QT) he makes the best use of music and image to evoke an emotion. Trance the word, by definition, basically means being in a hypnotized state, but it's also is a genre of dance music characterized by computerized sci-fi sounding lazer noises over a hard, or sometimes soft, beat. Couldn't be farther from my taste, but there it is.
It swims through Boyle's film like a fish, anchoring plot points and cueing emotions. It swells in intense moments, moans in foreboding ones and breathes quiet breaths in quiet ones. But it always seems to be there, observing or reacting to what's on screen. It really is a beautiful score, just maybe not something I'd throw on while I'm doing my makeup.
The first two-thirds of Trance pulse along in peaks and valleys. There are moments of brilliance offset by moments of tedium nibbling at your elbow until you're about ready to scream 'where the hell is this going already?' The last third understands this and apologizes for the uneven pace by turning all the dials up to ten and switching on the noise cancelling button on its headphones (so as not to damage its hearing).
This is where paranoia, thoughts within thoughts, plot twists and carnage all come to roost and by the final frame, with your head buzzing, you'll probably sit there trying to piece it all together before you stand up to brush the bits of popcorn and runaway sour patch kids off your abdomen, slob.
This is a movie where you may feel compelled not to move at all until the next show starts because only by watching it twice will you feel like you've seen it once. But you probably won't because of the peaks and valleys of the first two-thirds and of course that scrawny fourteen year old kid who works at the theatre who you know is just looking to beat on somebody for not evacuating their seat in a timely fashion.
A return to the hard nosed Danny Boyle days pre-Slumdog, Trance is a film that demands, yes demands, multiple viewings. It's a film peppered with inspired lunacy and occasional bursts of sudden boredom. You get the sense it wants to be Inception, but ultimately falls short.