Trance. Danny Boyle lost in plot.

trance-movie-poster-2013Danny Boyle is the most exuberant showoff in cinema. He has a bag of visual tricks he pulls out with barely the slightest provocation, and this would make him insufferable if it weren’t for his overflowing humanity and generosity. Here is a popular artist who truly loves his fellow man. And what makes him even more remarkable is he does it without any schmaltz or over sentimentality; it’s genuine, so it doesn’t have to be manufactured.

Who else could have made Trainspotting so simultaneously seductive and repulsive? And without ever turning it into a simplistic tract about the “evils of drugs?” It’s because Boyle was able to see these addicts without judgement. Drugs are fun… until they’re not. Danny Boyle just put us in their heads for a couple of hours and took us along for the ride.

Or the way he reinvented the zombie film with 28 Days Later the same way that George Romero reinvented the genre in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead? He took a genre that had become stale and made it nightmarish again with his “not-really-zombies” zombies who not only wanted to eat you, but they could outrun you. What made the movie so effective was his group of survivors he follows through this wasteland who were neither saints nor martyrs, just people who want to survive and who you want to survive. You didn’t want to see any of them meet a horrible demise, which is quite an accomplishment for a genre where the ultimate goal is just to see the characters get bumped off in increasingly gruesome ways.

And what about 127 Hours?! NOBODY could have made that movie, with it’s confined location and single character for a majority of its running time, and have made it so passionate and emotional and as visually exciting as Boyle. And nobody has been able to pull a career-defining performance of James Franco. He took Franco’s perpetual self-satisfaction and turned it against him. Being ironic and smug doesn’t mean shit when you’re trapped in a deep crevice by a large rock and the only things there to appreciate it are the buzzards hovering overhead and waiting for you to die. Franco gave Boyle one of the best performances in years.

But something happens with Trance, Boyle’s newest movie… and it’s not good news. For the first time, he’s working with a script SO heavily plotted, it seems as if a new twist is waiting to develop after every other scene. Boyle is never allowed to just settle down with the characters and see what makes them tick. And while the movie is never boring, it’s quite empty. This movie is missing Boyle’s generous spirit.

What Trance does have his Boyle’s flamboyant visual trickery… boy, does it ever! The plot involves a group of art thieves using hypnosis to retrieve the whereabouts of a painting that was stolen and hidden by one of the crew played by James McAvoy; he receives a brutal head injury during the robbery and forgot where he put the darn thing. These scenes with Rosario Dawson’s therapist plunging into McAvoy’s rattled subconscious allow Boyle the opportunity to go nuts. This is the most visually outlandish movie Boyle has ever made, and that’s saying something; this is the man who had a dead baby crawling on the ceiling and Ewan MacGregor crawling out of a toilet in Trainspotting.

It should be said the visuals in Trance are stunning and, at times, shocking. And just watching Boyle working at full throttle visually is more satisfying than what many movies have to offer in their totality. But Trance isn’t just a case of style without substance, it’s style without soul. And that’s shocking when talking about Danny Boyle.



  1. Pingback: MOVIE MADNESS UPDATE #3 | The Soothsayer Never Sleeps
  2. Victor De Leon

    Haven’t seen this one yet but I know I will. I dig Boyle. But I’ve read that 3rd act is a bit of a misstep and rare for him. Style wihout soul, huh? Darn.

  3. davecrewe

    This is definitely a lesser Boyle, but I enjoyed it on its own terms. It’s very silly, but I realised that early enough to not be disappointed when it started throwing ridiculous twist after ridiculous twist at the audience. Not great, not terrible – though I certainly agree that “style without soul” is a pretty apt description of Trance.

    • Cameron

      Being that it’s Boyle, I went in with my expectations WAY high. The sillier the movie got, I probably should have recalibrated my expectations as well, but I just kind of sat there befuddled and shaking my head.

  4. Matt (The Obsessive Viewer)

    I liked the movie a lot. To each their own, though. After making a few Oscar-level movies, I thought Trance was a nice return to more wild, distrustful character plots for Boyle. I reviewed a little more in depth on my site a while ago.

    • Cameron

      Too each his own… exactly! I was looking forward to seeing Boyle go back to his Shallow Grave days with something a little nastier than his more recent output, but I just thought the plot got a little TOO carried away with plot twists and whatnot. But I still love Boyle and anxiously await anything he does.

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