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Entries in Danny Boyle (2)

Friday
Apr122013

Trance

Danny Boyle is one of those directors that can be both brilliant and frustrating. He knows how to tell a story, but sometimes over stylizes those stories with narrative gimmicks and camera trickery. It’s almost as if he’s both confident and unsure of himself, like he loses faith in the story he’s telling and ups the style or takes detours that don’t fit. His most overrated film, “127 Hours,” is proof of this. With ridiculous ghostly visions of Scooby-Doo and long tracking shots that took the viewer out of the terrifying claustrophobic atmosphere its main character was stuck in, Boyle lost much of what made the rest of his movie so grueling. He made similar mistakes with the video game scene from “The Beach” (though it could be argued that movie was beyond repair anyway) and the ending of “Sunshine” that turned a wonderful, thought provoking science fiction movie into a glorified slasher film. Unfortunately, he does it once again with “Trance,” though to a lesser extent. Boyle mixes assured direction and a steady hand with a number of questionable decisions—the abundance of purposeless canted camera angles feel even more so when they’re simple establishing shots—and it’s frustrating to watch. It’s still worth seeing if for no other reason than for James McAvoy’s committed performance, but it’s no master work.

McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer who auctions beautiful paintings worth millions of pounds to the highest bidder. Although he’s been told that no piece of art is worth a human life, there’s nevertheless a procedure in place in case of an attempted robbery. In the commotion, he’s to grab the painting, enclose it in a zip-up bag and drop it down a safety chute to a place where nobody will be able to access it. One night, this procedure becomes practice when a group of armed gunmen, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel), show up to steal the most precious painting up for bid. Right before dropping it down the chute, Simon is caught and gives up the bag, but not before getting cold cocked in the head with Franck’s shotgun. This hit causes Simon to lose his memory, which is a bad thing because it turns out that somewhere along the line, he made the old switcheroo. The bag is completely empty. Later, after Simon is released from the hospital, the thieves catch up to him and, with the help of hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), attempt to siphon its whereabouts out of his brain.

Essentially, “Trance” is “Memento” meets “Inception.” It revolves around a man trying to recover his memories while also taking place in a dream state, one that blurs the line between reality and illusion, to the point where it tricks the viewer, unaware at any given time if what they’re watching is taking place in the real world or within someone’s mind. It’s not a bad concept, though it’s perhaps less interesting in a post “Inception” world that already tackled the idea in a better, more meaningful and more complex way.

The one thing that will be hard to accept, especially for the skeptics among us, is its story that revolves around the pseudoscientific nonsense that is hypnotherapy. It’s not the fact that it’s there, or even that it plays a major role in the story, but rather that it’s portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way. It never questions its authenticity and instead treats it as a real and true practice, which of course it isn’t. In a movie like “Inception,” such a practice would be okay because it takes place in a strict science fiction universe. Recapturing lost memories the way Guy Pearce did in “Memento” is okay as well because it at least makes sense and is grounded in some sort of reality. “Trance” feels like it couldn’t come up with a realistic way to explore the same idea, so it included science fiction elements in a story that is anything but science fiction, hoping the audience will fail to notice.

Yet one can’t deny that as silly as it is and as desperate to be unique as it sometimes feels, “Trance” works. McAvoy, as usual for the talented actor, gives a marvelous performance that gradually changes as we learn more and more about his character. By the time the end rolls around and the twist is revealed, things that didn’t make sense before suddenly do and our perception of him has completely changed. Unfortunately, that twist still revolves around the hard-to-take-seriously hypnotherapy the film uses as its crutch.

Frankly, Boyle is at his best when he keeps it simple, his best and easily most enchanting movie being the underseen “Millions.” Here, he has a story that is so elaborate, he can’t seem to keep pace and tries to cover it up with technical flash. It’s one of those rare movies that hooks you without ever providing the suspension of disbelief one would need to truly invest in it. You know full well while watching that it’s a tad rough and its attempt to legitimize hypnotherapy is total nonsense, but you don’t care. “Trance” won’t blow you away and if you’re looking for movies that tackle similar themes, you’re better off watching those aforementioned Christopher Nolan films, but it’s serviceable nonetheless.

Trance receives 3/5

Friday
Nov122010

127 Hours

Danny Boyle is a director of immense talent. His varied approach to filmmaking and refusal to stick too close to one genre is admirable and refreshing in this cinematic age of rehashes and remakes. He has tackled horror (28 Days Later), science fiction (Sunshine), drama (Trainspotting), romance (Slumdog Millionaire) and family films (Millions). His versatility to the craft of film is awe inspiring. So why am I so letdown by his latest based-on-a-true-story character piece 127 Hours? While not bad—in fact, I’m recommending it—127 Hours is nevertheless an uneven film with enough questionable decisions to keep it from reaching greatness.

Seven years ago, an adventurous man named Aron Ralston took a trip to Blue John Canyon in Utah to climb through its many crevices for sport. While descending a long, narrow passage, a giant rock broke off and wedged between the two walls, catching one of Aron’s hands and trapping him down there. His arm eventually died and the rest of his body was soon to follow, so after days of struggling, he cut through his flesh and bone and escaped what he thought was going to be his tomb.

James Franco plays Aron and, much like Ryan Reynolds in the recent thriller Buried, he is forced to carry the movie virtually by himself. However, when compared to that similar film, as is inevitable, 127 Hours pales in many respects. What this movie does, unfortunately, is leave the scene of the dilemma far too often, something Buried so skillfully avoided throughout its equally short runtime. It gets sidetracked too easily with quick cutaways to spontaneous fantasies and memories from Aron’s past.

Instead of keeping us there in that tight space and forcing us to feel how the character feels, it foolishly snaps us away from the action (or lack thereof) to show us trivial back stories, like how Aron lost his most recent girlfriend. One of the key differences between this and Buried is that the latter film never bothered with any of that because it didn’t matter. Buried was carried by raw emotion. This tries to trick us into feeling something. At numerous points in the film, we see and hear what is going on in Aron’s head and at one point, a laugh track is even used. I’m not kidding.

That scene in question, which is only one of many, is intended primarily for laughs. The movie, though certainly more dramatic than comedic, too often makes light of the situation. For instance, a long, sped up tracking shot that travels from the spot Aron is stuck to the back of his car miles away where a Gatorade sits is meant as a humorous way to show off his dehydration, but there's nothing funny about what this man went through.

There are so many missteps in 127 Hours, it boggles the mind. But what that really goes to show is how crucial a good performance and capable direction can be. While Franco is very good, it’s Danny Boyle who steals the show. Although it begins with an excess of hyperactive editing and annoying split screen, Boyle quickly calms it down and directs with an assured hand, spicing up the proceedings with some nifty point of view shots and canted camera angles that serve to make the mountainside look ferociously steep and scary.

It isn’t until about 15 minutes in that the title card appears and Aron finds himself stuck. This simple, but effective little detail works not only as a way to remind the audience what they’re watching, but warn them that things are just beginning and the worst is yet to come. I suppose that is 127 Hours’ greatest strength. Everything before that fateful moment is meant to build his character, label his personality and make us care about him and it works. It’s because of that smart calculation that I was able to look past some of the film's faults. It’s nothing enthralling, and I doubt Boyle will be clutching a Best Picture Oscar come awards season, but this story is worth experiencing all the same.

127 Hours receives 2.5/5