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MOVIE REVIEW: CHRONICLE IS A SOARING ACHIEVEMENT
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordon, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshlaw, Bo Peterson
Chronicle is another entry in the recently popular found footage genre, a genre that has seen its share of really good films (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity) as well as some really bad ones (The Devil Inside, Quarantine). The trailers for Chronicle promised at least an intriguing entry in the genre, but the extent to which the movie succeeds is not only surprising, but positively mind blowing.
Chronicle is one of those experiences that practically defy description. That it comes from a debut filmmaker Josh Trank is all the more amazing. What this young filmmaker accomplishes in in his debut feature film is enough to shame many action filmmakers who have been in the business a lot longer. The action scenes are jaw dropping, the story line is crisply told and surprisingly poignant, and the performers are so totally submerged in their characters that it adds that much more dimension to the material.
It's almost impossible to talk about the film without revealing a whole lot, so be warned: Chronicle is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the more rewarding the experience is. Three friends – – cousins Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) and Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) and kind hearted school jock Steven Montgomery (Michael B. Jordon) – – obtain super powers after discovering something in a crater they come across one evening.
The first half of the film features some hilarious interludes as the trio of characters exploit their powers for fun and games. They start off seeing who can stop a ball someone throws at their face without touching it. They continue to have fun by scaring a little girl at a toy store, moving one woman's car in the middle of a mall parking lot, and in one exhilarating sequence, play foot ball high above the clouds (the scene where an airplane flies by and nearly sends one of them to their death has to be seen in order to be believed).
The best scene comes when Andrew, who's something of a social outcast at his school, uses his power to win popularity and notoriety at the school's talent show, performing a number of magic tricks, one of which gives the game 52 card pick up a whole new meaning.
Of course, anyone who has seen the trailer (which, if you haven't, is something I strongly recommend you don't do) knows that things turn deadly, and it is here that Chronicle turns into a dark coming of age parable of surprising complexity.
The movie gets the most milage out of the character Andrew, who is not only bullied at school but also at home by his alcoholic father (Michael Kelly). Making matters worse is the fact that his mother (Bo Peterson) is bed-ridden and dying, and that her medicine at the pharmacy costs a little over $700 (this leads to a disturbing sequence where Andrew uses his power to get the cash for his mother's meds by any means).
Dane DeHaan creates a surprisingly sympathetic and focused portrayal of sadness and longing in the earlier segments of the film, and of irrepressible rage in the second half. Yet special mention must also be made of Michael Kelly, who avoids turning his drunken father character into a cliché and turns him into a fully realized character of flesh and blood.
We've seen movies involving a young teen living with an abusive father, yet because the performances are so natural and so strong, it gives the scenes between Michael and DeHaan that much more weight and emotional power.
The same thing can be said about the subplot involving Matt's infatuation with lovable video blogger Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshlaw), a subplot we've seen in many teen movies before, but never acted out as sincerely and sweetly as it is here. And while Michael B. Jordon isn't give as much back story as the other two, he manages to make his Steve into such a likable and amiable character that he makes every scene he's in count.
Because Chronicle is about everyday teenagers with real problems, real dimensions, real hopes, and real fears (there is nothing stereotypical about any of the characters here), that makes the film's explosive final third all the more exhilarating when it finally arrives.
The climactic action scene, where Andrew goes bonkers in downtown Seattle, is a real stunner. Shot in a number of angles via news cameras, store security cameras, cell phone cameras, and home video cameras which add to the realism, the entire sequence is so startlingly directed that it has you holding your breath the entire time it plays out.
I probably haven't even begun to scratch the surface at what a brilliant film Chronicle is, and looking back on the film, I wonder if its possible for any review to do it justice. The film concludes with the promise of a sequel, and because this movies starts things off on such a high note, I can honestly say that I'm stoked about seeing it.
Final Grade: ***1/2 (out of ****)