Friday, May 4, 2012

Chronicle (2012) Review


It is very hard for a movie to completely blow me away on the first viewing. Usually, a great movie will become a nine out of ten max by the time it’s over, and it may take me a couple more viewings for it to reach a ten (or it may just stay at nine). On rare occasions though, a movie will come along that appeals to everything that I love about movies, and “Chronicle” is one of those rare occasions.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is an emotionally damaged teenager, to say the least, as he’s abused at him by his alcoholic father and abused at school by the bullies. Feeling distanced from the world, he buys a video camera so he can document everything, all day, every day. When his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and school presidential nominee Steve (Michael B. Jordan) want him to film a cave they found in the woods, they find a mysterious crystal deep within that gives them telekinetic powers. The three of them have a blast over the next few weeks developing their powers, and Andrew’s happy to have some true friends now, but good things never last forever.

Superhero origin stories are tricky to get right, since the thrill of discovery often distracts from what is going on in the main plot. In “Chronicle,” the discovery is directly tied into how everything plays out. Struggles with immense power are nothing new, but director Josh Trank’s application of the found-footage technique breathes fresh life and reality into the proceedings. If “Chronicle” had been filmed like a normal movie, the events of the plot may have come off as average or old-hat.

Watching the three lead actors, who have such wonderful chemistry together, having fun with their powers helps the viewer get incredibly involved with the story, and only makes the dark turn of events later on that much more impactful. Whether it’s pulling funny pranks on innocent bystanders, playing football high in the sky, or Andrew showing his power to everyone at the school talent show, the joy of watching the trio play with their abilities never gets old.

But there comes a point where one of the three begins to get too power hungry (if you’ve seen the trailer, then you know, although it’s not hard to guess), and starts using it for more malicious means. This was around the point where I knew that the movie was a nine out of ten for me, and if it can knock it out of the park with the ending, then it will hit the next level. Usually found-footage movies cut off abruptly at the end, some more skillfully (“Cloverfield”) than others (“The Devil Inside”), but Trank and screenwriter Matt Landis go all-out for their destructive brawl in Seattle.

Trank skillfully dodges the limitations of the found-footage technique by switching between security cameras, spectator cell phone cameras, and police cameras to stage a massive fight that is more cinematic than anything the subgenre has ever offered. The danger is immediate and in your face, while the emotional investment we have with the characters adds a greater sense of weight and gravity to how events unfold.

Of course, I recognize that found-footage movies are not for everyone, so my reaction to “Chronicle” may be stronger than others. And there are also a couple of nitpicks I have, such as some inconsistent special effects. However, most found-footage movies are within the horror genre, while “Chronicle” falls much more in line with tales of super heroes, so it would behoove those who are tired of this kind of movie to give it a shot. Tragic, funny, and thrilling all at the same time, “Chronicle” is one of those few movies that blind sides me with how well its execution lives up to the premise.

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