Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Trance Fails to Mesmerize Critics

The reactions of critics to well-made genre films rarely fail to bring a smile to my lips. For instance, take the various responses to Oscar-winning-director Danny Boyle's Trance, a trippy crime drama that's equal parts The Usual Suspects and Twelve Monkeys. Christopher Orr of The Atlantic calls it "an arty spin on a trashy B-movie," while Grantland's Wesley Morris dubs it "high-order, film noir nonsense" -- and that from a pair who claimed to have liked it. For some reason, tastemakers turn up their noses at narratives that aren't intensely character-focused or that fail to address weighty sociological concerns. Yet for all its popular trappings (or perhaps even because of them), Trance proves no less an artistic endeavor than any other effort adored by the Academy.

Art auctioneer Simons has broken the most important rule of his profession: If a robbery occurs during bidding, don't try to be a hero, because no painting is worth a human life. Easy to say, but hard to do when you're clutching Francisco Goya's Witches in the Air (valued at somewhere north of £25 million) as a distracted thief is pointing a shotgun in your general direction. Simon tries to take the bad guy down with a stun gun, gets knocked cold for his efforts, and wakes up days later in the hospital as a hero. Police and the papers fill him in on the details since the blow robbed him of his memory, the gist of it being that the robbers got away. Simon can recall some things, though. Mostly that he isn't a hero at all, because he was secretly in league with the thieves the whole time. Also that he cut the painting free of its frame and secreted it .... somewhere. The exact location and reason why elude him, a fact that doesn't please his criminal compadres. They enlist a comely hypnotist named Elizabeth to pry the information from Simon's head. But they'll soon discover there's no easy way to unearth what the mind wants to keep buried.

Let's go ahead and deal with Trance's shortcomings right at the start. Like many thrillers, it contains a few too many improbable twists. Also, it also spoons up a large serving of exposition at the start of the final act, which proves a bit much to swallow. However, unlike similar works, it doesn't resort to violence and sex to pad the proceedings. I mean, yes, there's viscera and skin, but I wouldn't call it intentionally titillating. Full-length nude shots serve a plot purpose divulged only near the end of the story, and gut-wrenching gunplay slides into nightmarish impossibility, revealing that the barrier between reality and Simon's subconscious has become thin indeed. Interweaving essential story elements with eye-catching content? Sure sounds like artistry to me. Add to that the main thematic thrust dealing with the dangers of lust, obsession, and cupidity, and you've subject matter that's definitely part of universal human experience. And isn't that what great storytelling is supposed to be about?

(Picture: CC 2014 by Gabriela Ferreira)

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