When passionate film geeks put their brains together at the end of the year and produce countless lists highlighting 2012s biggest cinematic surprises, it wouldn't surprise this writer one bit to see Chronicle on many a one. With only a few episodes of the show Kill Point to his name, director Josh Trank successfully marries a small-scale domestic drama with some big-time visuals, while screenwriter Max Landis (see if you can guess who his dad is) formulates a plot that, while unashamedly a construct of a dozen familiar strands, finds novelty in how it approaches the basic idea of three teenagers obtaining and nurturing superpowers. With unknown Dane DeHaan in the lead, Chronicle is not without significant faults (we'll discuss several of them below) but the old-school appeal of a non-sarcastic film that embraces its outlandish premise is hard to pass up.
Whatever the reason to make the film a case of found-footage POV footage may be, Chronicle has the noble distinction of hitting the genre marks (there is a bit of throwaway dialogue justifying the incredily sturdy camera, and naturally later commentary dutifully reminding us of the camera's presence) but also weaving the equipment into the plot in a way that doesn't feel too forced. Andrew (DeHaan), whose camera provides most of the footage until the climactic dust-up, initially sets up it up in order to catch evidence of his father's seemingly regular verbal abuse and beatings. DeHaan embodies the troubled Andrew, who escapes an easy description - he radiates both naivete and a threatening degree of self-delusion, awkwardness and a desire to match an unforgiving world punch for punch. With a father slipping into alcoholic rage and a mother on her deathbed, Andrew is under the proverbial gun every day of his life. Cousin Matt (Alex Russell) attempts to keep him in check but as teenagers are prone to, when Andrew proves to be a handful, Matt retreats.
Then, something unpredictable and not entirely implausible happens. Following a party, Matt, Andrew and charismatic student athlete Steve (Michael B. Jordan, who radiates starpower and has come a long way since he delivered a deeply soulful performance as Wallace on The Wire) discover a glowing object in a cave. Boys being boys and this being a movie, they touch it and come away with Peter Parker Syndrome - that is to say, unhurt excepting a growing ability to telekinetically move objects and fly. While at first Andrew's obsessive filming is considered a liability, the boys soon revel in having home footage of pranks pulled on nameless passerby. These pranks naturally turn dangerous as Andrew's development accelerates way beyond Matt and Steve's - that power, coupled with unyielding abuse at school and at home, begins to change the young man into something significantly more sinister, not to mention dangerous.
Trank and Landis hit the jackpot in how they approach the easy times before the comedown and heightened stakes. The moments of the boys learning to fly are engaging and absolutely terrific, capturing a childish dream brought to life. There's a genuine sense of joy and a reminder that occasionally cinema can bring to brief life a childhood dream without undercutting it with sour sarcasm. As the trio grows more confident with their powers and Andrew experiences an overnight transformation into the cool kid and then back to loser, Chronicle heads into a third act that will not be spoiled here, except to say that while The Matrix Revolutions had ambitions, the technology might have needed more than a few years to catch up.
Where Chronicle falters is forgivable but one is left thinking back to the this side-plot and wondering just how necessary it is. The second act takes the time to develop a romantic interest for Matt in Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), who berates him playfully and more importantly, demonstrates a propensity for filming that will come in handy later. It is very apparent that Casey is Landis' device to both present a more complex portrait of Matt and provide a logical reason to film certain scenes. That said, if excised, the 83-minute film may be a good 10-15 minute shorter but it will also be one taut sci-fi thriller. Less questionable but still puzzling are Andrew's attempts at obtaining money near the end of the film. Without revealing much, of the many ways his powers allow the young man to obtain currency, he chooses one of the least intelligent.
Aside from those complaints, Chronicle surprised, moved and impressed this writer. It is not a difficult film to enjoy and certain images will stay with you after. Most importantly, it weaves an introductory mythology that while (thankfully)left unexplained, reveal a foundation for future films. With the first film a hit, its only a matter of time until we get some answers. Hopefully they won't be dull or disappointing.
Video and Sound:
Having received a pre-release screener disk of Chronicle, we cannot currently comment on the video/audio. This review will be updated should a release copy be made available to us.
A commentary definitely would have been appreciated but alas, we get several Pre-Visualization animatics and camera tests that demonstrate the film's ample and well-integrated special effects, but do little to illuminate how a fresh-faced filmmaker and writer commanded a young cast and created an outstanding genre flick on a shoe string budget.
A for-sure rental, Chronicle may be an Extended Cut/Special Edition away from being a definite purchase. Easily Recommended.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...