I want to like Trance. It's a mostly good-looking movie, with talented actors and a talented crew, all attempting to do something bold within the confines of a story that's seemingly generic. This isn't director Danny Boyle's most ambitious movie -- not by a long shot -- but it's no simple feat, either. Trance is a heist movie that aspires toward the taut psychological thriller, and if not for a few gargantuan missteps, it might have straddled the two brilliantly.
(Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The movie opens at an auction house, where Simon (James McAvoy) explains the standard routine in the event of a robbery. He's supposed to take the most valuable piece of art, stash it in a soft case, and then hustle to a safe drop box, where it can be stored away from the grasp of thieves. When a slick gangster named Franck (Vincent Cassel) tries to steal Francisco Goya's Witches in the Air, though, almost nothing goes according to that plan. Franck hits Simon with the butt of his gun, Simon wakes up in the hospital with amnesia, and after Franck realizes the painting is still missing, he drags Simon to a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) in hopes that she can restore his memory. And on it goes.
Trance is basically the sum of Boyle's direction and a story that swings from surprise to surprise. That's a formula for a decent movie, but at times it fails to entertain or even make a lick of sense. The twists upon twists within the narrative are foreshadowed by lame dialogue; when Dawson delivered most of her lines, she may as well have hoisted a banner with "REMEMBER WHAT I SAY" painted in big, bright lettering. Boyle's direction is uncharacteristically superficial, too.
This movie entertains some interesting questions about memory and identity, but Boyle ditches that intellectual posturing for a sexy, violent revenge fantasy. His instinct is right -- he doesn't need to be an intellectual filmmaker to make good movies. Trance simply isn't good. When it ended, everything fit together and I felt terribly unsatisfied.
That's the thing about puzzles: Just because the pieces fit together in the end doesn't mean you've made one.
WHAT'S THE MEANING of "Room 237," the infamously creepy hotel room in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining? Is there a meaning to it? Why that room? Why that number?
Director Rodney Ascher had the good sense to not answer these questions in his delightfully bizarre documentary, Room 237. Instead, he interviewed a collection of "theorists" -- conspiracy enthusiasts, really -- who are convinced of a hidden meaning within The Shining. Some hidden meaning. Any hidden meaning. One man believes the movie a metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans. Another is convinced it's about the Holocaust. An exceptionally imaginative gentleman claims it's Kubrick's apologetic confession for faking the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Yes, really.) There's mention of "impossible windows" and disappearing furniture, as well as the most strenuous analysis of luggage, German typewriters and children's sweaters ever put to film.
Rather than show these oddballs on screen, Ascher lets them dominate as off-screen narrators, set against an eclectic collage of footage that draws mostly from Kubrick's film catalog. It's an inventive approach, and although it quickly gets tiresome, it emphasizes one of Ascher's few messages -- Room 237 is about The Shining, but it's also about what can go wrong when you love a movie. The subjects of this documentary are analysts without rigor. They're hunting for answers, but they can't even ask the right questions.
The problem, though, is that Room 237 doesn't offer anything to contrast against this nonsense. As you fall deeper and deeper into these loony theories, you may begin to imperceptibly nod to yourself, quietly falling prey to the ridiculous logic of the fanatics. Did you know the average distance between Earth and the moon is 237,000 miles? (It isn't.) Can you believe that the key to Room 237 has an anagram for "moon room" written on it? (It doesn't.) Ascher invites us into a world without critical thinking, but he doesn't bother to keep us tethered to reality. Room 237 wants you to think about the nature of theory and fandom, but won't dare make any judgments about the theories it presents.
Since Ascher didn't, I will. All of them are wrong. They are wronger than wrong. They are the wrongest wrongs that ever wronged.
Oh, and if you really, really want to know what's inside that room, Scatman Crothers said it best: "There ain't nothin' in Room 237. But you ain't got no business goin' in there anyway. So stay out. You understand? Stay out."