Friday, April 12, 2013

Watch the fingernails

It's a pretty sure bet you'll come out of Danny Boyle's latest movie trying to figure out all the twists and turns in its plots.  It's probably a good idea to give up, because I suspect the plot doesn't actually hold water too well. 

Trance starts off with telling us how a certain London art auctioneers manages its security - especially when it has a painting for sale that's likely to bring in more than 25 million (and that's pounds, I assume).  James McAvoy is the narrator at this point as well as being part and parcel of the set-up.  And then the set-up becomes the real thing, we go through the process for real, and the two main characters that we've met so far both turn out to be not quite what we were told.  McAvoy comes off very badly in the ensuing rough and tumble and winds up in hospital for weeks, with, among much else, his memory damaged.  The bit of his memory that's damaged holds the key to where the painting that was stolen went, and so off he goes to a hypnotherapist to find out where the painting is.  Except that none of this is quite as it seems, and by the end of the movie, everything we've seen is either in someone or other's mind, or is a lie, or is twisted.  Cassell is exposed as the villain of the piece very early on, and stays a villain throughout...except that he's not the real villain, and the hero isn't quite the real hero, and the hypnotherapist, while certainly a hypnotherapist, is also a good deal more.  Even the ending has some ambiguity about it. 

Critics of the movie have complained that the plot can't be explained properly, and that's right.  But this is a plot with not only an unreliable narrator (in the brief patches when he acts as one) but at least one other very unreliable storyteller, and a director who cheats at times.  Keep your wits about you, and keep an eye on the damaged fingernails. 

The direction is superb, of course, with a great deal of mirroring and reflecting of the actors, a lot of use of people on different sides of glass, or seemingly in touch when they're not.  If the story was even more unbelievable than it is, this would still be a very watchable film.  The cinematography is top notch as well (Anthony Dod Mantle also worked on Slumdog Millionaire), and the music is extremely unsettling - in the opening exposition, for example, the music is running with a different edge to what we're watching, and you're trying to think why this should be. 

It's not uncommon for audiences to have to keep up in modern movies - we're often given less information than we require and have to make assumptions - but Trance takes this to the extreme; like Inception, it leaves you guessing quite a bit of the time, even in its last stages. 
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