Danny Boyle does. Check out the British director's list of films. There's a ridiculous variety of films there, and the scary part? With one exception I'm seeing, there isn't a weak flick in the bunch. Even his less highly regarded movies are still pretty decent. How about hypnosis and amnesia though? Can Boyle even pull that one off? Let's see with 2013's Trance.
An art auctioneer working for a high-end auction house, Simon Newton (James McAvoy) has become involved with a gang of crooks led by Franck (Vincent Cassel). Their target? A rare Francisco Goya painting, Witches in the Air, that will soon go up for auction. The job goes relatively smooth until Simon inexplicably trying to stop Franck who punches him in the face, knocking him out. Franck discovers later that Simon switched out the paintings, just leaving the frame in the case. In the meantime, Simon has become a hero for trying to stop the robbery, but there's a problem. Simon can't remember what happened after Franck's punch, can't remember what happened to the painting. Even after some torture, Simon still can't remember so Franck knows he genuinely can't remember. He comes up with an out of left field solution, sending Simon to a hypnotist, Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), who will help him remember and net him a lucrative payday in the end.
Another movie to add to the list of "I was bored so I explored Netflix" finds, 'Trance' was given a limited theatrical release in the U.S., seeing the light of day in a sprinkling of theaters. Let's say this...it's a doozy of a flick, one Boyle had wanted to bring to the big screen for years having read Joe Ahearne's script in the mid-1990s. Is it a good or bad doozy though? I'm still deciding there. The problem is simple, Ahearne's script is interesting but its goal is to deceive. It is a movie meant to confuse and baffle as it develops, and then when the finale comes along, it comes as a complete surprise. That's fine, right? Yeah, surprises are good, but this one feels very forced, very contrived and completely lucky. So many things (sssssssso many) need to happen for it to work that it passes any sort of reality -- even movie reality -- and leaves it in the rear view mirror.
The catch to it all is that because Boyle is a very talented director, he still makes it work even in spite of its flaws. As a visual director, Boyle has few rivals currently working. His movies are polished, stylish and quite the visual treat. The cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle is a gem, scenes full of color from the white, clean look of Elizabeth's office, to Franck's dark, poorly lit and sparsely decorated house to Simon's cluttered house. Even when the story may be a tad confusing -- and it is -- watching the movie is still a treat. There's little to no action, instead scenes of dialogue and hypnosis replacing them, so Boyle and Mantle work to make those scenes visually interesting. We're watching the hypnosis as it happens through the individual's head, seeing what they see, those listening "appearing" in the hypnosis as if they were really there. The score from composer Rick Smith is solid as well (listen HERE), driving the story forward with a mix of electronic/trance-like music that fits well.
The cast is limited basically to the three stars, McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson. Obviously, the focus is on this trio of characters in just about every scene. What works well is that the three of them all have a development over the course of the movie, and all in surprising fashion. McAvoy does a very solid job as Simon, the art auctioneer who becomes a participant in a heist after taking a serious punch to the head. He does a good job as the tortured individual trying to figure it all out (and with a twist). Dawson is excellent too, her soothing voice providing the good backdrop for the hypnotist who also has ulterior motives. Cassel does what he does best, a scheming, sneering intimidating villain who just looks like a bad guy. I don't want to give too much away about where/what these characters become, but all three performances are certainly interesting. As Franck's gang, look for Danny Sapani, Matt Cross and Wahab Sheikh in supporting parts.
Most of the last 30 minutes are spent on the twist, the reveal, and then the explanation. Again, no real spoilers here to speak of. Even clues could take away your enjoyment, or at least the surprise, when things are revealed. Because Boyle knows what he's doing, the big reveal is something else to watch. It's meant to catch you by surprise, even shock you in some instances (and it does), but the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. So so many things have to happen for this all to happen that it becomes ridiculous to fathom. The same for one particular twist that seems to defy explanation involving something stashed away in a car trunk. As for the final scene, there's a nod/rip-off (depending on your interpretation) to Christopher Nolan's Inception.
Quite the mixed bag in the end. A lot of talent working with a very skilled director, but it never quite gels. Tries too hard at some times, very stylish and entertaining in others.
Trance (2013): ** 1/2 /****