Thursday, February 16, 2012

Man on Film: Chronicle

With found-footage films having seemingly flooded the market in the past 15 years or so, the prospect of taking in yet another in the form of Chronicle was not one for which it was easy to get excited. Somehow first-time feature-length director Josh Trank and screen-writer Max Landis (John's son) managed to sidestep most of the pitfalls that the bulk of their predecessors were unable to avoid. That isn't to say Chronicle is without its flaws, but so much of the found-footage onslaught has been in the realm of horror, therefore seeming more and more derivative that Chronicle's independence from the horror genre allows Landis and Trank--who share a Story By credit on the film--to branch out from the tired tropes of the form.

Here, the footage in the film (which doesn't ever actually claim to be "found") is primarily provided by a camcorder that outcast teenager Andrew Detmer bought to chronicle his life and (presumably) curb some of the physical abuse that his father has been doling out. As he takes to filming his life, he finds himself at a rave in the country where his cousin Matt Garetty and candidate for class president Steve Montgomery stumble across a glowing and pulsating subterranean crystalline structure which they eventually discover has imbued them with the gift of acute telekinetic powers. What follows is a film in which the young men explore their new-found powers and deal with the problems that arise the deeper they go.

Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan who played the manipulative and aggressive adopted gay teen Jesse in season three of In Treatment, is largely at the film's center, and unfortunately, this is where the film doesn't break away from its kindred found-footage films. While Andrew may be the most developed character, he is also the most irritating. Having seen a lot of him in In Treatment, it seems safe to say that the fault lies with DeHaan himself, who seems willing to take roles in which he is often called upon to do and say some awful things, but the audience is ultimately supposed to feel for that character. DeHaan doesn't seem have the range to be able to endear himself to the audience.

Thankfully, the other two-thirds of the teen trio who stumble across a supernatural source of power are great. Playing Andrew's cousin Matt Garetty, Alex Russell is able to pull off the task of being the likable voice of reason who is prone to socially awkward exchanges with girls in which he tries to come off as smarter than he is. Despite the opportunity to grate the audience's nerves if missing the mark, Russell's take on Garetty is a success.

What makes the film, though, is Michael B. Jordan's performance as the insanely popular Steve Montgomery. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been awake for the past ten years, as he was fantastic on two of the best shows of the past decade, standing out amidst very strong ensemble casts in The Wire and Friday Night Lights. If someone said that a movie just featured Michael B. Jordan being awesome, honestly that should be enough to get your ass in the seat.

One might be curious as to why the film went down the found-footage path. In retrospect, it probably makes sense. While the construct is tired generally, the fact that it is occurring in front of an amateur's lens allows for skirting around the obvious budget-related effects issues. While this is usually the case in the sub-genre, most other found-footage films also prey upon the point-of-view aspect of the film to get cheap scares and generally manipulate the audience. Chronicle doesn't engage in such chicanery and is actually freed from the confines of being told solely through the eye[s] of its characters by having them able to control the camera with their telekinesis. By incorporating other cameras (CCTV, video bloggers, police cameras), the audience is given alternate means by which they can process the action. With Chronicle, Landis and Trank constructed a film that didn't come across as stale, unlike the slew of other found-footage dreck. Were the main character more sympathetic, it likely would have blown up even more. As it stands, a sequel to Chronicle wouldn't be surprising in the least.

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