Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chronicle (2012)

Dir. Josh Trank

3.5 out of 5

"I'm filming everything from now on" announces troubled teen Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) in the opening shot of Chronicle, a warning to his alcoholic stepfather that doubles as a matter-of-fact apprisal of the movie's self-awareness. Here is a "found footage" feature that plows right through the format's limitations. Where The Blair Witch Project began the genre in grainy black-and-white images confined to the woods, Chronicle soars to the tops of skyscrapers and through the clouds, creating a sense of woozy liberation that quickly careens into power-drunk madness.

DeHaan begins the film as a lowly loner, dragged to a rave on the rural outskirts of Seattle by his cousin, Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), where they are joined by class president hopeful Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) in some off-the-cuff spelunking and discover...something. Quickly they realize that their close encounter has endowed them with more than just nasty nosebleeds: they're instant superheroes, slowly learning to harness their raw powers of telekinesis and flight. The trio uses their abilities mostly to goof around and play pranks, but DeHaan is the surly elephant in the room. He is the strongest of the three, and the least emotionally prepared to handle such a sudden reversal of fortune. The film is cleverly built around his increasing angst and corruptibility as he dances on the line that separates hero (steadfastly protecting his dying mother) from villain (projecting the resentment of his abusive stepfather).

Adrenaline junkies take heart: Chronicle is nothing too subtle. The psychodrama takes a backseat to effects-driven spectacle in the third act, which makes a giant leap into the uncanny valley, yet feels justified in doing so. After all, this is essentially a comic book movie. Such things require a final confrontation where two supercharged characters lay waste to an urban landscape. Plus there's plenty of goofiness on the margins. Friends and family are none too inquisitive about all the incredibly strange phenomena they witness, and the script foists a love interest on Russell primarily to get another camera in the mix. But the movie's trump card is its darkness, unrelenting and frighteningly casual. It disabuses us of the notion that if we were just stronger or smarter or richer, all of our problems would disappear. Chronicle is ultimately a smart, subdued sermon about the sublime torment of being special.

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