Movie Review: Chronicle

Movie trailers are an interesting beast.  On one hand, they’re absolutely worth watching to give the viewer a quality guess at how the movie will be.  You can tell by the majority of trailers whether or not a film will be, at the very least, a good idea to spend ten bucks on.  On the other hand, they’re often quite misleading.  Lest we forget, there are people hired to cut these things, making otherwise unwatchable films into an entertaining two-minute package.  The end result: there are more good-looking trailers than bad-looking ones.

So generally when you get a trailer that doesn’t look good, you can bet against any semblance of a quality film.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you exception to the rule #1…the trailer for Chronicle.

Your likely response is something along these lines: “oh, look, another found footage movie!  Chock-full of obnoxious teenagers doing obnoxious things!  With an implausible plot line!  And there’s no way they could get all this from a simple video camera!”

If that’s your reaction, well…welcome to the club.  It was mine too.  Your next reaction, however, should be a complete 180.  Just check out Chronicle‘s 84% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sometimes, you just need to believe the positive reactions.  If you’re a Knicks fan, you figured Jeremy Lin was just filling up a roster spot, a career journeyman with not much NBA talent.  Then he scored 25 points against the Nets, and your curiosity was piqued.  And then you tuned in the next night, and were rewarded, when Lin hung 28 on the Jazz in another win.  Consider Chronicle the Jeremy Lin of movies – it came out of nowhere, it didn’t look good, and it suddenly start to raise some eyes with an overwhelmingly positive performance.  And you tuned in for Lin – so tune in for Chronicle.

Bigger shock: 53 points in two games for this guy, or an 84% for Chronicle?

The basis of our story, and I don’t want to say too much, involves three teenagers – Andrew (Dane DeHaan), brooding and unpopular, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a charismatic star athlete and potential class president, and Matt (Michael Kelly), who’s a little bit of both, a popular kid who likes to study philosophy.  At a huge rave party one night (where were these parties at my high school, exactly?), the three wander off and find a hole with a mysterious glowing object.  They enter the hole and – well, we don’t exactly know what happens.  But weeks later, the three boys have become the owners of telekinetic powers, with the ability to move objects with their minds.

It’s easy at times to figure out where the film is going just by the character types – but the screenplay by newcomer Max (son of John) Landis makes some difficult and bold decisions, and sinks in as a pleasant, if sometimes disturbing, surprise.  What would you do as a high school student if you gained superpowers?  While this obviously isn’t a realistic scenario, the film itself explores the possibility in as realistic of a way as possible.  The boys start to explore their gifts at home and in the backyard before moving into more public territory, and the film’s tonal shifts are appropriate and well-placed.

Chronicle is essentially a “hello, world!” for five newcomers who could be major players in the near future: the three leads, screenwriter Landis, and first-time director Josh Trank.  The film builds up momentum through a slow opening, before racing to the finish in an 83-minute running time that never feels that short (a good thing).  It is raucously funny in the way that a fast-paced conversation with your friends is funny, not in the way some dialogue you’d only hear in the movies is funny, a positive for the found-footage side of the equation.

Buddha.

And oh, speaking of that found footage…it’s actually a positive thing, and a gimmick that works.  Credit to the talented actors for making the film seem more like a home video than a scripted drama.  The film utilizes a camera held by Andrew, who’s decided to go around videotaping his life, as well as other people’s cameras, cell phones, and security footage.  How exactly that main camera captures all the footage is a simple, but somewhat genius maneuver, from Trank and Landis.

This is a movie that never overstays its welcome – if anything, it understays it.  The talented cast shines throughout – Jordan, who oozes charisma every second he’s on screen, Kelly, the emotional center of the film, and DeHaan, who gets the most screen time as the troubled Andrew.  To say any more about DeHaan, in particular, would be to give away pieces of his character.  But it’s best to go into this film with a fresh mind.

It’s hard to overstate just how much I enjoyed Chronicle.  To think a found footage movie from a director, screenwriter, and cast that essentially no one had heard of – in the movie dumping ground of early February, no less – could be one of the best films of the year is a shocker.  You might scoff at that notion – how can you tell one of the best movies of the year in February?  See Chronicle.  Then you’ll know how.

Grade: A-

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2 responses to “Movie Review: Chronicle

  1. I agree with everything you said. Finally saw the film, which I might just as well have over-looked if not for (other) reviews sounding genuinely impressed. Wow. The bizarre thing is the last movie I saw (Fri.) was the equally impressive sleeper “Project X”. DO NOT MISS.

    One of the many clever things in “Chronicle” is how they include one other character (the blonde girl) with a video camera to ever-so-subtley pick up the slack the couple of times Andrew can’t or wouldn’t be around to tape.

    Cast and crew are all going places! Landis, like Jason Reitman, is a chip off the old block – and may be even more talented.

    -tony.

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