Mark Reviews Movies

Chronicle

CHRONICLE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Josh Trank

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking)

Running Time: 1:24

Release Date: 2/3/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 2, 2012

Chronicle features not one but two gimmicks.  The first is assigning its three central characters superpowers—not just any superpowers but ones granted by a mysterious, glowing blue crystal buried deep in the ground.  The second is the conceit of structuring the film as "found footage," meaning the characters themselves capture all the action on their own personal cameras (The question of who, in the movie's world, edits the footage together is even more pronounced here, where one camera is lost in a collapsed cave, another is apparently destroyed in a telekinetic explosion, and yet another is left behind in a harsh landscape).  The neat little thing about Chronicle, which is, well, a neat little film, is that its story could exist entirely without either gimmick.  In fact, those devices only serve to underscore what happens around and behind them.

At its heart, the film is a sympathetic character study of a wounded teenager.  Bullies have wounded his pride.  His father has wounded his sense of responsibility and the proper way to handle feelings of anger, resentment, and self-doubt.  Nature has wounded his only security by giving him a bedridden mother who is slowly dying.  With the cost of medication and uncaring representatives of an insurance company on the other end of the phone, society has wounded his sense of justice.

One day, this boy buys a camera with the intention of documenting his life and, more importantly perhaps, to give his father something to think about if the man decides to hit him again.  This is where we enter into the sad world of Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan).

He is terribly unpopular at school.  His only friend is Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), and the only reason he's even friends with Andrew is because they're cousins.  For a long stretch of time, Matt admits to Andrew, he didn't even like Andrew.  "You're angry and hostile," Matt tells Andrew, after he snaps at his cousin for daring to speak the truth about how he might manage to distance himself from people with his attitude.  Given his home life, we can't blame the kid for wanting to do so.  Isn't carrying a camera around all the time putting a barrier up between him and the rest of world, another classmate asks him; "Maybe I want to," Andrew replies.

The other classmate is Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), and, as one might anticipate with a name like that, Steve is the popular kid at school.  He's running for president of the student council; unlike Andrew and Matt, he has a girlfriend (There's an amusing exchange suggesting that superpowers come in handy in that field, as long as one is subtle about it).  After he's been mocked and physically confronted at a barn party, Andrew sits alone in the parking lot, cleaning his camera and stifling back tears, and Steve approaches him.  He and Matt have found something cool, and they want him to see it, as well.

After their spelunking expedition in the unnaturally shaped cave with the blue crystal at the end, the footage resumes some time in the near future.  The boys now have a reason to capture their lives on camera, because now they have the ability to manipulate the world using only the power of their minds.  It starts off innocent enough, with the trio throwing baseballs at each other until Andrew stops it just before it hits him in the head, and grows into greater—even gravity-defying—displays of telekinetic strength.  Andrew is soon able to hold his camera with his mind, allowing it to hover around them.  It's a clever conceit on the part of director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis that allows us to actually see the film's central protagonist; it also lets us see him watching himself.

At a certain point, it becomes clear that this power is not going to do Andrew any good.  Surprisingly, it's not a major setpiece, like when he gets frustrated with a driver tailgating the trio and purposefully pushes the car but accidentally sends it careening into a river, but a moment of relative stillness.  Andrew lies in bed holding the camera at arms' length in front of him and sends it into the air, still focused on him; with unparalleled power at his disposal, he chooses to use it in a simple but telling act of narcissism.  When he nabs a spider with his mind and holds it in the air, stretching out its legs before a final mental snap, the act is only reinforcement; here is a kid who's been pushed far enough and not only feels superior to the rest of the world but also actually is in a very tangible way.

Inherently, the other characters suffer as their roles gradually shift into vessels to provide unheeded lessons to Andrew.  Steve presents him with a way to actually be accepted, using his new abilities in the school talent show; Matt is Andrew's conscience, insisting that they implement self-regulation on their powers after the incident with the reckless driver.  Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), a girl from school on whom Matt has a crush, is really only here for an eventual damsel in distress and to establish the existence of cameras other than Andrew's (She keeps a video blog).  That comes into play during the climax, where an assortment of security and cell phone cameras capture an outburst of teen rage that puts an entire city's fate hanging in the balance (As punishment for his transgressions, Trank takes away Andrew's privilege to have a perspective).

After being inundated with a bevy of comic-book superhero origin stories, how refreshing Chronicle is.  It's a film that arranges a unique whole out of familiar parts.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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