Tag Archives: violent

Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Porno

Cast:

  • James McAvoy – Atonement, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Rosario Dawson – Seven Pounds, Unstoppable, Sin City I & II
  • Vincent Cassel – Black Swan, A Dangerous Method, Beauty and the Beast
  • Danny Sapani – The Bill, The Oxford Murders, Singam II
  • Tuppence Middleton – Skeletons, Cleanskin, Jupiter Ascending

Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Devil’s Double (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

It is common for dictators and those close to them to have doubles (look-alikes), so that they can be in two places at once. (Not to mention making it harder for their opponents to assassinate them). But what exactly do ‘doubles’ do with their days? Well, The Devil’s Double gives viewers a brutal hint.

Latif with Uday before he has some minor surgery. Thw two men bear a striking resemblance. After surgery, the two men could be identical twins.

The film is based on the true (but embellished) story of how Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper – Tamara Drewe, Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week With Marilyn) became a look-alike for Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), the son of Saddam Hussein, the President (dictator) of Iraq, 1979-2003. The film is set between the late-1980s (during the latter years of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88) and up to December 1996.

Latif bears a striking resemblance to Uday. After some nasty threats and lashes, Latif agrees to become Uday’s double. Subsequently, Latif, to his disgust (and knowing that he could be shot on a whim at any moment), enters into Uday’s world of sadism, debauchery, drugs and murder. At what point will the ‘nice guy’ Latif draw the line?

The Devil’s Double makes for some gripping, if horrific, viewing. But, most noticeably, the film does not have much of a storyline. More often than not, scene after scene is just Latif following Uday to witness the latter’s next appalling act. Surprisingly though, this does not make the film any less absorbing to watch.

Latif being punished for not initially agreeing to become Uday's double.

The key reason for the movie being so engrossing is Dominic Cooper. The choreography may be jerky; the music may sound cheap and not totally in sync with the scenes; and the women may look distinctly Western and non-Arabic. Yet, particularly as Uday, Cooper makes the audience feel that their money has not been wasted. As Uday, Cooper plays an insane (in the true sense of the word), volatile, spoilt brat with an insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs, women (of all ages) and malice. In almost every scene, Uday appears drunk, high and unpredictable. Uday makes us feel uneasy every time he appears on screen, which is a testament to Cooper’s acting abilities.

There is no doubt that Cooper plays well as Uday. But his performance is not quite in the same league as Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. This is because in The Devil’s Double, Uday is not given a third dimension. Also, from the film, one has little idea what Uday’s upbringing was like, or what his relationship was like with his father (which was apparently not great) and mother (whom he was supposedly close to), amongst other things. This is a real pity, as this could have shown Uday in a chillingly human light, as opposed to the animal that he is portrayed to be throughout the movie.

Whilst as Uday, Cooper is impressive, he is less so as Latif. This might be because Latif is too nice and normal relative to Uday. Nevertheless, one does not feel much sympathy for Latif, or his predicament. In this respect, Cooper could have done better. Then again, just as Uday has not been given much depth, nor has Latif. This is not Cooper’s fault. Rather, it is the fault of the director, Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, xXx 2: The Next Level, Next), who should have given his two main characters more depth, even at the expense of making the film a little longer. At only 106 minutes, he had the time to do this.

A common sight throughout the film - Uday holding a gun threateningly, with a girl (or two) around his waist. The girl here is Serrab (Ludivine Sagnier), supposedly his favourite.

Just as Uday and Latif lack complexity, so too do the other characters in The Devil’s Double, such as Munem (Raad Rawi – The Kingdom, Green Zone, Conan the Barbarian) and Kamel Hannah (Mem Ferda – Revolver, Legacy: Black Ops, Ill Manors), who are supposedly part of Saddam’s cruel regime. Too many of them, though, appear as ‘good guys in bad positions,’ which could not have been true. Repressive governments don’t exist because they’re packed with ‘good people’ under an ‘evil’ despot. Rather, they survive because they’re filled with murderous psychopaths, who are given positions to abuse (until they become victims of the system, of course). By doing this, Tamahori shamefully forsakes the chance to illustrate the true realities of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the detriment of the movie.

All-in-all, The Devil’s Double may be crude and the epitome of its own title, but it gives us a glimpse of what life as a double to a nasty, sadistic individual could be like. Almost by himself, Dominic Cooper, playing two very different people, makes this utterly brutal film worth watching. The Devil’s Double is not one for the feint-hearted, and will leave even the strongest of people feeling uncomfortable by the end.

PG’s Tips