Monday, February 20, 2012

REVIEW: Chronicle (2012)

A superhero movie that actually does something interesting with its plot is rare to find these days as many of them are adaptations from already existing comic books – so even the best ones don’t usually surprise us in many ways, being that they are telling stories that we have always loved. But Chronicle puts a different spin on things and delivers a surprisingly dark, haunting picture that I found to be quite addictive.

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan

Before I get into the rest of it, yes, this is one of those found footage shaky-cam movies, and no, I don’t think it detracts at all from the movie. In fact there are several scenes which couldn’t have been done as effectively in a normal filming style and the handheld thing is handled really well.

This movie’s story is not really one that reveals its complexity through a summary. It’s about a group of kids that find a mysterious asteroid in the ground and gain telekinetic powers through it. One of the kids, due to his troubled home life, begins to go bad. The three main characters, Andrew, Matt and Steve, are the focal point of all the movie’s tidings and they are actually damn good characters. Sure, they sort of embrace age-old clich├ęs like the jock, the popular kid, the loner, but they’re very well detailed and textured characters who have clear dimensions to them. These guys are good actors and they play the characters with a lot of personality and charisma to them – they tell the whole movie’s story through their interactions and the way they change through the infusion of their newfound abilities.

The abilities themselves are scarcely explained and I like it that way; this is so much cooler than just a boring ‘superhero origin’ movie because it doesn’t dwell on any of the usual crap that those do. It’s a smart, gritty movie that has some serious twists, turns and thrills that you won’t see coming. Unlike most ‘kid with superpower’ movies like Jumper and I Am Number 4, Chronicle is dark and feral all the way and doesn’t wimp out on the danger that would realistically be present. The focal character Andrew (can’t really call him a protagonist) doesn’t get the girl, not everyone makes it out OK and where a lot of films would go for a safer, more happy-go-lucky character arc…this movie just gets darker and darker. When you think it’s gotten to its lowest point, Chronicle surprises you and gets even darker where most movies would pull out and relieve the characters of their pain. I respect this movie for that.

The two supporting leads, Steve and Matt, are pretty good kids, with a good grasp on what they want to do. Some of the most entertaining scenes are at the beginning when they’re all playing around with their new powers and just having fun. An interesting thing about this movie is the setting, which is decidedly grittier and more urban than a lot of other movies like this. These aren’t kids who have everything – they’re just average, suburban kids who joke around in crowded department stores and live on roads and in houses that could all use a bit of fixing up.

Andrew is a child of a very broken home with little hope on the horizon – his mom’s sick and dying, his dad’s out of work and abusive. He is a troubled teenager to the extreme, and when he gets his powers he does not magically turn over a new leaf. This movie is a really good portrayal of a main character that is not anyone we want to identify with or even really follow, but then the film does it anyway, and it turns out compelling and even arresting at times in its insanity. It’s a great character study of kids like Andrew who exist in plentitude in the real world – kids who have nothing and don’t seem to be on the planet for anything else other than to be punching bags for the karmic forces. It’s tragic, and the movie portrays Andrew’s darkest moments in that light almost as much as they are deplorable and disgusting. Mostly they’re all three.

Maybe the saddest parts are those in which Andrew actually does seem to be getting better and going places in life – having fun on stage at a talent show, meeting a pretty girl – and then he never really does. He is always shoved back down to his usual lows and like too many kids, he cannot rise above his own surroundings and the meager inheritance he’s been handed in life. A lot of kids can’t. A lot of kids just crumble and lose themselves to the darkness.

The real deciding point for movies this dark is how they handle the serious subject matter. A lot of movies tend to go overboard with the whole morbidity and darkness of their stories and forget to actually ground it with a leavening of light. This is a concept called duende, which asserts that every great work of art has a helping of both dark and light in its emotional and textural palette. Chronicle is good because it manages its darkness with class and grace, and makes sure each moment is felt with the weight and clarity it deserves, and yes, with enough light in it to make sure it does not suffocate on its own bile. Chronicle is a chronicle of the weakness of youth and how easily it can be manipulated by outside forces. Brilliant stuff.

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