CHRONICLE Review

by     Posted 2 years, 257 days ago

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The cinéma vérité style can easily go astray. It can be used more as a lazy way to put the viewer closer to the action without worrying about thoughtful cinematography or good performances.  Chronicle avoids the pitfalls by coming up with a good reason why its story should take a found-footage approach instead of a half-assed reason why a character should carry around a camera.  Rather than throw non-actors into the fray for “raw” performances (i.e. sloppy), the film places its trust in lead actors who give good performances.  There are times when the movie can no longer hold its fake documentary conceit together and at the climax it loses the character drama in favor of a big action scene, but Chronicle manages to be not only a good found-footage movie, but a good movie period.

Andy (Dane DeHaan) picks up a camera and begins documenting his life.  He films his abusive father (Michael Kelly), his ill mother (Bo Petersen), getting bullied, having no friends, and basically being treated like the crap on the world’s shoe.  When popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Andy’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) discover a giant hole in the ground, they encourage Andy to bring his camera and see what’s going on.  They discover an alien object, it begins pulsating, the camera goes out, and when the camera clicks on again after an indeterminate amount of time, we see the guys in a backyard playing with their newfound telekinetic powers.  Being teenage boys, they use their powers for mischief and fun, but for Andy, going from powerless to powerful makes it more than a game.

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Director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis don’t re-invent the found-footage approach.  They provide a reminder that it’s a tool.  Like any tool, it can be used effectively or it can be mishandled.  The cinéma vérité style works on multiple levels for Chronicle.  It grounds the story, it enhances the action, and it allows the plot to skip ahead to the interesting parts by letting the viewer fill in the blank.  Most importantly, the style adds depth to Andy’s character.  The camera starts out as his barrier between him and other people, and it eventually becomes his ally and the way for him to feel like the hero of his own tale.

Andy’s story teaches us never to underestimate the power of an Uncle Ben and Aunt May, because the irresponsibility and selfishness is what would happen to Peter Parker (but with telekinesis instead of spider-powers).  The found-footage isn’t about shoving “gritty realism” in your face; it’s about showing superpowers without the glamour and how careless teenagers would use them; in particular, how Andy would use them.  None of the kids are altruistic, but the powers make them close friends, and friendship is what Andy wants more anything.  Or at least, that’s what he thinks he wants.  What he really wants, and what he’s finally given the chance to do, is retaliate.

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For the first half of the film, Chronicle almost plays like a comedy.  The guys pull pranks, and discover how they can expand their power in order to do things like fly and form a protective barrier.  Their antics are funny and they feel real, not just because of the found-footage aspect, but because DeHaan, Jordan, and Russell have such strong chemistry.  But when the plot hits a turning point, the movie makes a sharp turn into a dramatic thriller, and leaves behind any trace of a light-hearted buddy flick.

When we lose sight of Andy, the story is lesser for it.  Not only is DeHaan terrific, but a romantic subplot involving Matt and a female video blogger (Ashley Hinshaw) serves only as a distraction and adds nothing to the story.  When the third act rolls around and the movie begins abandoning Andy’s camera for security footage, cell phone cameras, and whatever video recording device is in the area, then the story-telling device loses its power.  The film must now work for the found-footage approach instead of the other way around.  The action is enjoyable enough, but we’ve taken a step back and now wonder, “Who edited all of this together?  Who got access to all of this footage?”

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Thankfully, by the time the movie reaches that point, we’re invested in the characters and want to see how they finish their journey.  Chronicle is a case study in responsibly using a potentially powerful storytelling technique.  Like its main characters, Chronicle understands that it has a great power that can be wielded in more ways that one.  But unlike its young protagonists, Chronicle uses its power responsibly.  Uncle Ben would be proud (still dead, but proud).

Rating: B+

Click here for our video interviews with the cast and director Josh Trank.

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  • JLC

    Sounds like the plot of Akira, or Carrie, or Laserblast, or….

    • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

      After the screening, /Film’s Russ Fischer summed it up perfectly by saying, “Warner Bros’ Akira movie just became even more unnecessary, and this only cost $10 million.”

  • ipolos

    I’m really interested in this movie, Cloverfield is still my favorite found footage movie. I feel like this can give it a run for its money. Good review

  • justin

    I saw this last night. It was a special screening that my college got to see. It’s a pretty good movie. I agree with the review. But i say, its a see.

  • Anon

    so sick of teenager superpower movies/shows

  • Strong Enough

    I gotta admit. Ama little jealous at this movie. 87 percent on RT. good premise and now the director going to have a ton of offers.

  • oldcastle

    I understand the review is short but 3/4 of it revolves around the merits and success of the “found-footage” tool. The movie pulls it off–we get it–now can we move on? It would be nice to have heard more about the merits of the story and more detail concerning the acting performances.

    • Jay McKells

      Roger Ebert’s trolling under an alias again…

    • alex_manpsy

      I think they bring up the found footage format so much is because it’s used so well in the film, it’s probably, that this is the best found footage film ever made.

      As a story with it’s characters and such it’s a good film, but it’s distinctive inventiveness and greatness lies in it’s use of found footage format. (a little unfair, since Andy telekenetically controls the camera when filming himself.)

      • Mr.Rich316

        This is a pretty good movie,but I have yet to see a found footage movie better than The Blair Witch Project.

  • Jay McKells

    Good review tho.. I defo need to check this and the grey asap

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  • Tammy

    I took my 19 y.o. daughter and 16 y.o. son to see this movie last night. I laughed and cried several times as did my daughter. It was awesome. I definitely recommend this movie.

  • James

    Dane DeHaan characters name is “Andrew” not “Andy”.

  • sense 11

    Great Movie, I highly recommend it.

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  • Edward

    It was good. It wasn’t as great as everyone seems to be saying but it was good. I’ll just leave it at that and not get too much into critic mode.

  • Chikos

    I may be over zealous about this movie, but I thought it was refreshing and pretty original. This wasn’t a typical “zero becomes hero” movie like you might have expected from the beginning, but more of a tragedy about hubris and all that. This isn’t a story about a character learning from his mistake, but a warning about going too deep. Of course, tragedy itself isn’t original, but recently there has been a romanticization of the “loner” stereotype and it was nice to see a more realistic look at the “outcast.”

    What I mean about the “romanticization of the ‘loner’”: Andrew is a character that stands against a “cruel” world and its villains. He hates the douche-bags at his school, he rejects norms with his camera, he’s the artsy kid that we would expect to overcome the odds and topple the bullies. At the beginning, the viewer sides with Andrew, but as he becomes more powerful we see he has no real reason to be so distant from the world. We see this especially with the scenes with Steve; while Steve is able to laugh things off and form relationships, Andrew rejects this optimism (shown by the embarrassing party scene, “Why are you laughing Steven?” and the scene where Steve is killed). Instead of romanticizing Andrew’s rebellion against culture, the movie shows the flaws in Andrew’s thinking.

    I also enjoyed the script. Again, instead of romanticizing teenagers it shows the three characters talking naturally. Not every line was important, and there were many scenes that were anti-climatic, but that’s what adds to the realism of this movie. They’re conversations helped immerse you in their world.

    Despite these natural conversations, the film sticks to common motifs. The cousin (I forget his name) plays the “sage” in the movie, giving philosophical advice to Andrew and (almost blatantly) pointing out the moral of the movie at the beginning (“Man needs to recognize that he’s a creature of will”). Conversely, despite the use of the “sage” cliche, the movie retains it’s realism by having the characters mock the cousin’s philosophical statements.

    So basically, I liked this film. It was a simple, classic tragedy about hubris and power displayed realistically. Also, it redefines the “loner” or “outcast” stereotype. To those who say the movie was predictable, the movie has no attempts to hide its ending (you can tell from the trailer that Andrew will become corrupted). The fact you can predict a movie’s ending says nothing about the story the movie tells.

  • El-Sharieff Kirkman

    “This is one of the “BEST” reviews I have ever read” – For any movie – EVER! (And I have probably seen over a thousand movies (and read over hundreds of thousands of reviews), of multiple genres, in my young life of age 33, and I am a professional writer, and author as well). The honesty, sincerity, intelligence and detail in this critique, would land you a writing job with “TIME”, “Rolling Stone” or “People Magazine .” Amazing! Superb! “VERY” Well-done!

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