Sunday, 12 February 2012

Review : Chronicle (2012)


Josh Trank


Max Landis (screenplay), Max Landis (story), and 1 more credit »

Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

CHRONICLE is a movie of minor miracles.

For one thing, its a low-budget Science Fiction piece that has far more impact, excitement and visual splendour than a the vast majority of Hollywood's, (or anywhere's), mega-budget output. Also, it has a tiny, eighty minute run-time, yet manages to fully develop its main characters and have the audience care deeply about their fates, while still finding plenty of time for eye-popping, heart-racing scenes of emotional and psychical struggle, that are as fulfilling as anything seen in the 'superhero' genre, at any time previously. And lets not forget that its an origin story that turns the concept on its head, and gives us not one, but two origins, both completely authentic (George Lucas couldn't manage a decent fall into darkness in three movies, kids), within said eighty minutes.

All this would be enough reason to recommend this film unequivocally, but theres so much more. The main miracle here, is that the sheer amount of depth and substance to be found in this bad-boy is damned near ridiculous...

CHRONICLE tells the story of three high school kids, who stumble upon a strange meteor-like object, and find themselves developing unearthly powers. Simple as it may be, the concept in itself warrants any self-respecting geeks interest. Its wish-fulfilment time, friendos. Yet instead of taking the easy route, first time director, (yep, first time) Josh Strank, and writer, Mark, (Son of John) Landis have structured a Sci-Fi sleeper that astounds visually, engages emotionally, and can be looked at in a whole myriad of ways.

This is not just a Sci-Fi tale. Nor is it simply wish-fulfilment. CHRONICLE is a Greek Tragedy. Its a metaphor for the horrors of Columbine style massacres. Its a teen comedy. Its an impassive look at the nature of good and evil. It's a heart-soaring, imagination fuelled fantasy. A character study, a coming-of-age movie, and ultimately, a tragic tale of loneliness and the horrors it can inflict on those who suffer its vicious bite, and those around them.

Of course, there have been superhero movies that have touched upon many of these subjects before..SPIDERMAN dealt with the 'powerless' being granted power, and X-MEN, (and its first, Bryan Singer directed sequel), looked at right and wrong as opposing viewpoints, rather than black and white extremes. Yet those films, as excellent as they were, still felt like superhero movies. CHRONICLE does not. It feels strange even relating it to the superhero genre.  I have a similar issue labelling Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT in such a fashion. They strive for, (and achieve) a real world feel, and a level of intellect that pushes them into full-on character studies, political meditations and artistry.CHRONICLE, it should be stated, feels far more grounded than either of Nolan's films.

The film is shot in the style of the now commonplace, 'found footage' sub-genre, yet its most definitely not a found footage film. While much of the movie is seen through the eyes of a main characters camera, the fact that he has Telekinetic powers allows the camera to flow freely, as he uses his powers to float his camera where-ever he pleases, (very clever). It helps the film feel much more intimate than any of its type that has come before, while outside footage, (News stations, Helicopter-cams) helps allow for the necessarily epic shots of magic and mayhem that an audience demands of such a movie.  The whole 'hand-held' thing has love/hate written all over it, of course, and some will be bemoan its use here. Really though, this is one of the few times, like TROLL-HUNTER or REC, where it really does help tell the tale unfold.

The three leads are all excellent in their roles, and each brings a unique quality to the group dynamic. We have Dane DeHaan, as, the damaged, lonely 'Andrew'. Here's a kid who can find no respite from the constant alienation and bullying he suffers at High School; even at home. His mother is terminally ill, and his father has become an embittered, drunken husk of a man in the process. In many ways, Andrew is the 'angry heart' of the tale, and its probably no co-incidence that he brings to mind Leonardo Di Caprio's early work in THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, in looks and intensity.

As his loving, yet somewhat distanced cousin, 'Matt', Alex Russell brings a warmth and quiet kindness to the role of a good natured, philosophical soul, who looks for, and finds, the good in all he can. And, with the smallest, yet far from insignificant role, Micheal B. Jordan plays the High School football star, 'Steve', who, despite his popularity, is a down to earth guy, who genuinely cares for those around him, even when it threatens his own well-being.

Through getting to know these guys as they develop their powers and their friendship, we come to love them. We laugh with them, (they early scenes are extremely funny, as they guys do what any guys would do when the develop super powers.....fuck around), and we feel their joy as they realise just how powerful they have become. All three characters feel very real, and easily garner our care and compassion, which makes it all the more painful when things go horribly wrong in the films second half. As usual, I wont give away any details of what these guys can and do experience, but your with them all the way, from delight and ecstasy, to rage and terror.

CHRONICLE is a hard film to find fault with. Other than a romantic sub-plot involving Matt and a high school sweetheart, which feels tacked on, I got nothing. It never outstays its welcome, despite its wealth of subject, its never falls into pretension despite its intelligence, and its never depressing, despite its inherent sense of tragedy. It's the best movie 'of its type' , ( I just cant call this a superhero movie), of its type since THE DARK KNIGHT, and it stands alone as a unique cinematic experience that really shouldn't be missed. It will make huge stars out of its cast, its writers and its director. Mark my words. This heralds a number of new arrivals.

CHRONICLE is a dark delight, indeed.

9 Haunted Teddy Bears our of 10 (It'll make sense when you see the movie, trust me).

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