Thursday, March 1, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

Sometimes you see a trailer and think, "This looks interesting, but I feel like I've seen it before." Except this new movie doesn't have an A-list cast, a huge budget, or a ubiquitous marketing campaign. You're not sure what the film has to offer, but you like the concept and decide to check it out. You then find yourself sitting in a theater eating a gigantic bag of popcorn and drinking an irresponsibly large soda when it hits you: This movie puts all the others to shame. The writers, the director, the cast, and everyone associated with this project nailed it. Chronicle is that type of movie.

The movie is about three high school friends who acquire superhuman abilities after being exposed to an item of unknown origin. When the movie opens we are introduced to Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a high school student who has decided to film his day-to-day life. Andrew is a bit a of an outcast. He's bullied at school, doesn't have many friends, and his home life is not the best. His only companion is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who is always trying to break Andrew out of his shell. In an effort to help Andrew meet girls, Matt takes him to a rave. Shortly after they arrive, Matt and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) ask Andrew to bring his camera so they can film something out in the woods. Earlier that night, Matt and Steve stumbled across a crystalline object that appears to have crashed deep underground. As they get closer, the object begins to glow and all three are stricken with nosebleeds. The glowing gets more pronounced, the object releases a piercing sound, and then the camera cuts out. The next time we see them, a few weeks have passed and they now possess special abilities.

Armed with telekinetic powers, Andrew, Matt and Steve do what any teenagers would in similar circumstances: They pull pranks on innocent bystanders and film them for their own enjoyment. The more they use their powers, the stronger they become. It doesn't take long for everyone to realize that Andrew's abilities are developing faster, and his command over them is greater. In fact, you could say that he's more powerful than both Matt and Steve combined. At first this isn't a problem. There's only so much trouble you can get into when you're using your powers to chase a little girl with a floating teddy bear. But when Andrew uses them to force an annoying motorist off the road and into a lake, Matt and Steve get concerned. The more they try to impose rules and restrictions on how they use their abilities, and the more they warn Andrew about the harm he's doing, the more he withdraws. With his home life deteriorating, his suffering at the hands of a bully continuing, and the tension building with his friends, Andrew snaps. Then things really get out of hand.

Having read comic books for the better part of my life I'm more than familiar with the concept of an origin story. Typically you are introduced to a character, you see how they obtained their powers, they learn to harness them, and then almost immediately they thrust themselves into a heroic situation. Things get very serious right away and it's all about duty and responsibility. What I loved about Chronicle was that they spent some time showing the characters enjoying their abilities. This was a nice change of pace. They were actually having fun. Not brooding under the weight of their circumstances. There is a scene early on where all three characters take turns throwing a baseball at one another to see if the potential victim could stop it mid-flight. Not only did this lead to some hilarious head shots, but it showed how cool superpowers can be. Possessing superpowers doesn't have to be a burden. About 25 minutes or so is spent on them using their abilities to pull pranks. It added humor, but more than that, showing how much fun Andrew, Matt and Steve were having together made Andrew's dramatic turn all the more effective.

As you might of guessed from the trailer, the story is told exclusively through the lens someone's portable video camera, namely, Andrew's. Usually this particular storytelling device bothers me. In films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the idea that all of the events were shot with someone's personal camera never felt organic to me. I ended up thinking, "There's no way someone could film this," or "You wouldn't be delivering such clear and articulate dialogue while being chased by an enormous alien." But I will say that it never bothered me during Chronicle. There were a few moments when it felt forced, but overall it worked. Kids film everything nowadays with the hopes of posting it online and becoming instant celebrities. It made sense that they would film their exploits. And the writers introduced one unique element to this. Because they have telekinetic powers, Andrew is able to control the camera with this mind. This allows him to have the camera follow them without him having to control it by hand. This puts all three of them in one shot. It's definitely a plot device, but one that made absolute sense to me and allowed for some great visuals.

I didn't know what to expect with Chronicle but I enjoyed it the whole way through. It was one of the more realistic approaches to superpowers that I've seen in a while. If a regular person possessed the same abilities as the film's protagonists they wouldn't immediately put on wetsuits and start fighting crime. They would use them on their friends for a laugh. They'd creep out the neighbors. They would fly 20,000 feet above ground and toss around a football (this really happened in the movie and it was one of my favorite scenes.) And more importantly, one of them would probably use their powers for less than heroic means. There's a part of Andrew in all of us. The part that would lose control, or desire to do so. The part that would feel superior to everyone and unwilling to bend to their bullshit. You understand him. At times you root for him, while at others he makes you cringe.

For some Andrew is the villain. For others he's a tragic hero. In either case his transformation was engaging and helped make Chronicle a movie I'd recommend in a heartbeat. The action was exciting and inventive, the plot was well paced, and the performances were well executed. Check this one out if you can before it leaves theaters.

1 comment:

ice princess said...

I enjoyed this film and like you I would recommend it. For once, we get a movie close to realism.

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