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Entries in Vincent Cassel (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
Dec032010

Black Swan

In today’s cinematic world, nobody nails surrealism like Darren Aronofsky. While you could argue he has some contenders, namely David Lynch, Aronofsky one ups them all for one reason. The weirdness doesn’t overwhelm the story. Lynch’s films are mind bending, but don’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Lost Highway and Eraserhead in particular come off as weird simply for the sake of it and any type of analytical conclusion one could derive from those films is probably nonsense. Lynch himself has even stated that he has never read an analysis of Eraserhead that fits his own. Aronofsky, on the other hand, hits the perfect balance. He messes with your head and sometimes confuses you, but it’s nothing a second watch can’t fix. There’s more to his movies than meets the eye and his latest, Black Swan, is no different.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a dancer in a New York ballet company that has just announced their next project, a production of “Swan Lake.” The play requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan and the Black Swan and Nina thinks she is right for the part, but the director, Thomas, played by Vincent Cassel, isn’t so sure. When she dances, he sees the angelic White Swan side of her, but not the other darker half. Nevertheless, he gives her the part of the Swan Queen, but she soon finds herself competing with Lily (Mila Kunis), who she thinks is trying to steal it from her. To keep it, she trains rigorously with a disregard for her physical and mental health and it begins to tear her apart.

At various points in the movie, Nina is told to “lose herself” in the role and she does, but not in the way the director intends. The story of the Swan Queen begins to mimic her life and it becomes her all. In the play, the White Swan morphs into her evil twin and Nina does the same. When we meet her, she is a fragile girl who is dealing with various kinds of abuse from those around her. Her mother is living vicariously through her, wishing for her to have the career she never had. She is seemingly friendless and she lacks the courage to stand up for anything, breaking down any time confrontations occur. It's this initial meekness that makes her eventual transformation so powerful.

The obvious color contrast between the good and evil sides of the play’s title character is not lost on the rest of the film. Black Swan plays with the motif of black and white, good and evil. Entire rooms exist that are washed in the two opposite colors and the main characters, Nina and Lily, wear clothes colored almost exclusively with one of them. In fact, I can’t recall one scene where Lily wore something other than black. The clashing colors is a stark reminder throughout the entire film that something has gone, or is about to go, horribly awry.

Refusing to simplistically limit itself, Black Swan also has fun with how Nina sees herself and the world through reflections. Mirrors surround her, whether she’s practicing in the mirror encompassed rehearsal room or passing through her house, someone or something is always staring back at her. The mirror theme may be too abundant, however. They’re so noticeable in the first half of the film that when crazy things do begin to happen, it's expected and not as shocking.

But that doesn’t detract from its intelligence. Black Swan is a smart film that may not make perfect sense right away, but slowly reveals itself upon reflection. To completely decipher the puzzle, multiple viewings are required and that’s okay because this is a fantastic movie that is anchored by Portman’s powerful performance. Even Mila Kunis, who had yet to convince me she had what it took to be a good actress, won me over here. Still, this is Aronofsky’s masterpiece. After his most straight forward film, 2008’s The Wrestler, he returns to the style that put him on the map. Like Requiem for a Dream and Pi, Black Swan is a dark and beautiful look into the macabre, and he spices it up with some terrific camerawork, like one nifty point of view shot as Nina pirouettes.

As you watch Black Swan, your eyes and ears will catch things that you’ll swear can’t really be happening, but they are. It will trick you into noticing things that are out of the ordinary, but that’s precisely the point. As you think back on them, you’ll begin to see their significance and that is perhaps the film's greatest strength. This is Aronofsky’s best work to date and a late contender for one of the best of the year.

Black Swan receives 4.5/5