To describe the work of Danny Boyle would be an understatement. Over the course of two decades and 10 films the British filmmaker has produced nary a work that resembles another, at least on a surface level. From the blacker than black humour of Shallow Grave to the sprawling account of substance abuse that was Trainspotting, through to the feel-good family tale in Millions and the inversion of the feel-good that was his Academy Award winning opus Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps the one thing that has connected the work of Danny Boyle across the ages is a decided sense of the average (arguably, and excepting the cultural beacon that was Trainspotting). That’s no mean feat, and nor is it a bad thing, for to maintain a very specific level of quality over the course of 20 years is quite the achievement.
Trance, the director’s latest work is being billed as a heist flick with a difference. Said difference resembles the USP’s of a number of other films that pertain to such grand standings, and ultimately one can’t help but feel that such a lofty claim is just that; lofty. But alas, and in keeping with the spirit of these things, nothing much shall be revealed in these utterings, and instead we’ll leave it to thee the viewer to discover each and every plot-turn for thyself. But know this much: James McAvoy is Simon, an art dealer who gets caught up in a robbery orchestrated by Franck (played by friend of Hope Lies, Vincent Cassel).
Being set in the art world Trance cleverly nods to elements of that particular world. Rembrandt’s ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee’ is cited early on as a means of explanation for the world in which the film takes place, one of stolen paintings kept from the outside world, while it’s Goya’s ‘Witches In The Air’ that is at the centre of the films heist. That that same artist is referred to as a “painter of the mind” makes for an early wink as to the direction Boyle’s film is about to head in. Pun intended.
Boyle’s hyper-kinetic visual style, all crash zooms and loose camerawork ensures that Trance is brought to you in exhilarating fashion. Boyle, alongside regular lensman Anthony Dod Mantle shoots an art auction like a gameshow, complete with, in this instance at least, a booming electronic music that recalls the music genre of the same name as the movie itself. Another tool in Boyle’s stylistic repertoire, the time lapse is also utilised, further reinforcing the feeling of a dated visual code. There are moments of brilliance though, with events taking place in a heightened dreamworld allowing for some inventing visuals. A forced burial recalls Dave McKean’s iconic coverwork for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (and itself set in the realm of the imagination) whilst a sequence set in a world dedicated to, and informed by the legendary lost paintings kicks off a second act heist-come-emotional breakdown that is accompanied by a piece of soaring and intense music that is far removed from that used in the earlier portion of the film. As the film progresses and the worlds converge upon one another the visual language evolves in to something bordering on the second-nature, such is the relative subtlety of moments, with road layouts that resemble neural oscillation.
It’s difficult to refer to the recent output of Boyle without making mention of his position as the artistic director of the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, Isles Of Wonder, a work undertook simultaneously with the production of Trance. Boyle has himself mentioned the paradoxical placing of the two, with Trance making light of the stereotypical “Bad London”. Rude cyclists, the lonely Underground and domestic abuse all factor in to this rendition of the city, while Chariots Of Fire’s own Vangelis is alluded to with the synth-heavy score. But it’s perhaps an emphasis on that greatest legacy of the London games and Team GB – TEAMWORK, that makes for the most explicit association, and while it rears it’s head early on, in the spirit of the informing idiom and the resulting film that too soon falls apart.