Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chronicle (2012) – Review

Review: Chronicle is a great action film that captures the intrigue of what it would be like to suddenly have superpowers. The film is about three high school students, Andrew, Matt and Steve, who come across mysterious energy in the ground that bestows upon them telekinetic powers. The found-footage cinematic style has mostly played out generic entries into the horror genre, presenting the shooting-style as sort of a novelty or gimmick. Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield being the standout film prior to Chronicle, and even that felt limited. Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis take the style and use it to create a very compelling narrative that plays off its grounded, reality based nature but also juxtapose it by having extraordinary things happen to the characters. And from a production standpoint, it allows the filmmakers to make something that could or would otherwise be expensive and do it with a much smaller budget while allowing it to maintain the narrative’s integrity. In a sense, the special effects are hidden and downplayed by the nature of the shooting style, and thus do not need to be as robust as on a blockbuster. I also enjoy that Trank and Landis transform this very gimmicky style into something that completely works for their story – though, there are moments where the style is still very limiting. The viewer does not get to see as much as they would otherwise like, but Trank does a good enough job with the narrative that this is not a big problem. He also progresses the narrative quickly and keeps the story moving, which saves the style from growing too tedious on the viewer. Basically, Trank forges a low-budget action movie that is as good, if not better, than most blockbuster action (superhero) films in recent years. Another thing that works really well in the film is the characters, primarily the main three. They are to a degree fairly stereotypical film/TV high school characters initially, but Trank allows the audience to relate with them and get to know them by having them act essentially like many of us would act given the same circumstances. The audience also is given enough of a glimpse into their emotional makeup to connect with them, and thus (as I constantly write) the audience cares about them and has a stake in the outcome. This means everything to a film. Over the years we have seen a lot of wonderful supervillains (or villains with superpowers); Trank, Landis and Dane DeHaan give us another one with Andrew. Society pushes him to the darkside. He is just an average guy, but bullying, an abusive parent and being kind of an outcast – all things that seem to isolate us in our society, especially in high school – push him towards making the wrong decisions. Even when things do go right for him, he has built up a lifetime of mistrust. These issues have been done many times in other films, and better in many films, but here they present a real life, relatable cause and effect to the villain. We all know people that are essentially the same as Andrew, and thus his turn is frightening because really any of these people can be pushed to make the same bad choices (and not with superpowers of course, but substitute gun or bomb or whatever and it is just as powerful and terrifying). Here is a film about teenagers that can fly and move things with their minds, but is also completely grounded, and that is what makes Chronicle particularly fantastic – it is both very entertaining with great action, but also has something to say about our society.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Josh Trank makes his feature debut with Chronicle and as far as debuts go, this is a very good one. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Production designer Stephen Altman does a good job grounding the film in reality with his sets. But it is Matthew Jensen’s cinematography and Elliot Greenberg’s editing that standout. Jensen’s work is great. Trank and he are very creative in finding ways to get the coverage they needed while still working within the parameters of the style. I also like that Andrew upgrades his camera in the film, which allowed Jensen to get some beautiful photography later on (especially the flying scenes). Greenberg’s editing is key to the film working (which is normally the case with most films, but more so with this one). The audience is already so limited on what they can see as a function of the style, that it is the job of the editor to try to get as much as possible out of each scene, visually, while still maintaining the flow of the narrative. This film has a very small cast, with really only three main roles, but Ashley Hinshaw and Michael Kelly are good in small supporting roles. Michael B. Jordan brings a lot of energy to his part as Steve, something the film needs given the other main two characters being fairly low key. Alex Russell is good as Matt bringing humanity to the group, while DeHaan creates what will likely be one of the best villains of 2012.

Summary & score: Chronicle is a unique film, in that it overcomes the limitations of its style and breathes new life into the superhero genre. 8/10

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