Last year, Danny Boyle became a national hero to many in his domestic Britain after masterminding a stunning opening ceremony of the Olympics. Seemingly satisfying even the sternest of sceptics with a rabid display of flair and flamboyance, he became elevated to a hallowed level of reverence. In the weeks and months that followed, he accumulated an approval rating that would have rendered most politicians a Hulk-like green out of envy. Ever affable, he accepted such praise with a gracious humility and a healthy dose of Boyle branded charm. Beneath his genial appearance, however, he masked a voracious talent that is testament to many years of hard work alongside any natural ingenuity. Lauded with plaudits and success, it would appear he can do no wrong. Or can he?
Returning to his day job, Boyle re-enters the film arena with Trance, a London-based psychological thriller that rushes around with about as much calm and patience as an ADHD sufferer. He has said that he was finishing this project whilst he was working on the Olympic opening ceremony, and that this should be viewed as its 'dark, evil cousin'.
Starring Vincent Cassel, James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson, Trance undertakes a card shuffling roll call of sympathy and understanding. Early on, McAvoy's Simon misplaces a valuable painting. Under the persuasive encouragement of Cassel's band of criminals, he ends up seeking the counsel and help of hypnotist, Elizabeth (Dawson), to retrace his steps. Although the backdrop for the film is that of a common theme; a heist, it is merely window dressing for what is an indeed dark and, heck, schizophrenic joyride into the mind.
With a doffed cap to the disorientating freewheeling narrative of Nolan's Memento, this film similarly glides along a bumpy path. It takes pleasure in scrutinising the tricks and tics of memory. Boyle plays chess with the players and moves them around with the devilish glee of a ringmaster induced with the cruel egomaniacal urge of a cartoon villain. You can almost hear the grind of his hands rubbing together as he plots each skittish twist and turn. This is aided, helpfully, by Joe Aherne's source material and the screenplay's joyfully itchy nature. The film also has echoes of Inception. But with added sex.
Daring to make this an adult film and not dilute it in order to make it accessible for a wider and broader audience, he does not eschew from graphic and explicit depictions. He directs with the cinematic frisson of a British Tarantino, but without Quentin's fondness for a baggy screenplay. Having said that, and although such comparisons make for neat phrases for critics to write, Danny Boyle is very much his own man. His films are all underpinned by his stylistic stamps of authorship. In fact, as it tends to be a defining quality of all of Boyle's films, this one does not disappoint in its assault on the senses. The thumping soundtrack plays havoc on the ears and the fast cuts fix into the eyes with the precision of a laser beam.
Not everything is welcomed wholeheartedly and with open arms, however. As much as the virtues of Trance are easy to spot and identify, it is also somewhat flawed. So much emphasis seems to be placed on tripping the audience (in every possible sense) that the film renders itself a little distant to the sense of touch. The characters are slippery and the consequence of such skilful toying with the assumed integrity (or lack thereof) of the protagonists leads inevitably to an arms space from empathy.
In addition to this, the relentlessly florid displays of directorial showmanship makes the pacing a little too one-sided. So persistent is the pace that the runtime feels a little longer than the 101 minutes that it forms and you may well emerge exhausted as the lights come up. Maybe the frenetic nature of Trance is a deliberate counterpoint to the relative stasis of 127 Hours. As it stands, this film zips along at a speed that would make even Usain Bolt baulk and cower with fear.
Any quibbles mentioned do not deviate the bottom line verdict. This film is, on balance, a mighty success. It may not be as charming and loveable as the Oscar garnering Slumdog Millionaire, but it is a relentlessly entertaining thrill ride. It stands as an hour and forty minutes at a cinematic equivalent of the best theme park you could name. Hold on tight and buckle in.