Make it a Double: ATOMIC BLONDE & TRANCE

Danny Boyle’s most anonymous film is also one of his most pulsating.

One of the favorite pastimes of movie audiences these days is to gather together and watch Charlize Theron kick some serious ass, which she does her fair share of this week in Atomic Blonde. Early word is that the film has some strong legs to suggest a good amount of staying power, giving the Oscar-winner another career triumph.

Theron is joined this time round by James McAvoy as her partner-in-crime. Though he doesn’t have the flashiest role in the film, McAvoy will almost certainly be able to hold his own, once again showing that he’s a more valuable actor than he’s usually considered to be. Nowhere could this fact be more valid than in a single viewing of the actor’s work in the 2013 Danny Boyle-directed thriller Trance.

Set in London, Trance opens on a narration by Simon (McAvoy), a security guard working at a top auction house. When the heist of a valuable piece of art planned by Simon and the ruthless Franck (Vincent Cassel) goes wrong, resulting in the painting disappearing altogether, the pair enlist the help of Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson). Through the method of hypnosis, Elizabeth attempts to get inside of Simon’s fractured memory in order to uncover the painting’s whereabouts. What she uncovers however, alters the fates of all three of them.

As with any Boyle offering, Trance is nothing if not stylistically impressive from beginning til end. Starting with McAvoy’s narration of the film, which includes a breaking of the fourth wall and looking into the camera, the film’s slick and adventurous tone is set. The fun is amplified by the central heist, which is a case study in music, editing, pacing and camerawork. As Trance progresses however, it develops a very self-contained feel to it. Visually, the film manages to be both flashy and beautiful without being over-the top, straddling the finest of lines between style and substance. The slight hyperreal feel that so many of Boyle’s films have is present throughout and proves to be an inviting presence. Trance is loaded with obscure angles and color schemes, all of with conjure up an intensity and overall manic feel that makes the movie feel as if it exists in its own reality. The instance when Simon’s memory begins to be unlocked is by far the film’s most amazing set piece with it’s use of music, angels, dialogue and the way Boyle uses them all to pull his audience in even further than they already are.

Thematically, the director isn’t merely content to rely on flash to carry Trance through to the end credits. The filmmaker treats his film’s subject, namely the power of hypnosis and its effect on memory, with total respect and curiosity. Boyle doesn’t shortchange the practice of hypnotising someone or use it as a device. Instead, he takes the time in between plot twists and camera moves to explore the theme through some well-made scenes in which the audience is invited to explore Simon’s memory along with him. Going deeper, it’s Trance’s manipulation of hypnosis and how the idea of it can be just as powerful as the practice itself that becomes the driving force behind the film. The layers of deception shown by each of the key players is greatly heightened by the fact that Trance is also an exercise in mental deception. This does more than just keep the audience on their toes, it makes them feel unsafe and totally vulnerable. At the same time, the way Trance uses colors, mirrors and windows accentuate the illusion aspects of the story’s theme while also allowing Boyle to indulge in his filmmaking sensibilities.

The three lead performances in Trance are as flawless as the film itself. The reason for this is due to the fact that there is not a clear cut character among the group. Simon, Elizabeth and Franck are all such grey characters, each with their own motives, complexities and vulnerabilities. The result is some truly skilled film acting from McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel, all of whom have their own scenes to steal and moments to impress for what is a masterclass in character interplay.

If Trance wasn’t as enthusiastically received as it could have been on a commercial level, it’s probably because the film was the first project bearing Boyle’s name following his awe-inspiring work on the London Olympics Closing Ceremony the year before. In fact, the film failed to even make back its initial production budget. A mixed critical response didn’t help matters and Trance quickly became just another footnote in Boyle’s CV.

For the most part, those who watch Trance find it to be the perfect blending of deception, mystery, action, memory and hypnosis. Few helmers have ever found a better way to combine such themes in ways as explosive as Boyle did with his film. If this wasn’t enough, the director manages to make sure his film maintains a stylish flair with a high-speed adrenaline, all the while remaining both intimate and rather closed off in nature. With a finale that is outdoes everything which has come before it, Trance is the ultimate modern update to the art-heist genre of the 60s with the kind of dynamic edge only someone with Boyle’s talent can deliver.

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