Danny Boyle is a fast talker. Our conversation is so quick and energetic that it could be set to the pulsing, electronic bass that pumps through the action sequences of the director’s critically acclaimed films. He works at the same pace, juggling his film work with theatre projects and special events – Trance was shot just before the Oscar-winning director tossed the Queen from a helicopter at the London Olympics and edited just after the Games had closed. “Coming from a national celebration to a film that very much occupies the dark side of the brain was a bit of a shock to the system,” he says, laughing. “It could come as a shock to other people, too – I feel like we ought to warn them!”
This shift to the dark side with his latest film Trance brings together Boyle’s collaborators from the early days of Boyle’s career, when he specialised in low-budget film noir, and others from his latter-day career as the Oscar-winning director of audience favourite, Slumdog Millionaire. The script was written by John Hodge, who penned Boyle’s first films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and the cinematography was handled by Anthony Dod Mantle, who worked with Boyle on the more recent Slumdog and 127 Hours. The result is a tense, crime-driven plot rendered in vibrant, chaotic colour and movement.
The story is part-heist, part-love-triangle and part-puzzle. At the centre are three very different individuals: Franck, a professional criminal (Vincent Cassel); Simon, a seemingly innocent art auctioneer caught up in a crime (James McAvoy); and Elizabeth, a hypnotherapist who alternately aids and manipulates those around her (Rosario Dawson). Gambling debt leads Simon to cooperate with Franck on an auction-house robbery, but a blow to the head leaves him with no idea of where he’s hidden the stolen goods – Elizabeth is called in to retrieve his lost memories. And, as you may well guess, nothing is as it seems.
“You don’t know who to root for or who to trust,” says Boyle. “There’s some extraordinary acting as the characters are evolving and revealing themselves. The actors are always trying to keep you on side, to make you keep trying to understand what’s happened to them and why they are who they are. There’s no black and white.”
There are familiar themes to those who know Boyle’s early work, but it’s the first time the director has placed a woman at the centre of one of his films. While the posters and trailer suggest McAvoy is the star, it’s Dawson who drives the action. “That was a major reason to make the film. I’ve made about ten films now, and each of them ultimately has a male centre. This project stands out for me because it combines the visceral assault of an action-filled plot and style with a incredibly resilient and intelligent female character who increasingly becomes the engine room of the movie.”
In her ability to lead others through a series of trances, Dawson’s Elizabeth is the character to which Boyle says he can most immediately relate. “I’m a big believer that movies are trances. They’re hypnotic and immersive; we laugh and cry at things that are entirely an illusion. You lose perspective of what’s real and what isn’t, and of where you are. Cinema is uniquely placed to entrance, because it plunges you into the depicted world with an intensity that can’t be replicated in other art forms. That’s what the wonder of film is – that we lose ourselves in it."
Trance screens from Thu Apr 4.