Josh Trank’s Chronicle is certainly a movie you should go see. If you’re curious enough about the film to have begun reading this review, then I can say without a doubt that you won’t walk away disappointed or empty handed. You’ve seen the trailers and the stills, you’ve read the synopsis and you know the conceit. What you want to know is, “does it deliver on its promise?” Yes. It more than delivers. It knocks its promise out of the park. I only wish it promised, and delivered, something just a little bit different. And it’s only because the film has so much cool stuff in it that I’m even thinking this way.
Here’s the thing. Chronicle promises to do two key things very differently. It succeeds handily at one of these objectives and fumbles the other. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, just that its reach exceeds its grasp in certain areas. And while it would have been better if it had handled both its genre and conceit subverting ambitions with equal grace, I believe knowing which ambition to focus on and which to drop completely might have been the better choice.
What the film does provide a fresh spin on is the superhero genre itself. If you and your friends discovered that you had telekinesis to the degree that Dane DeHann, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan’s characters do in the film, this is at the very least a relatable version of the fun you’d have with the power. And it’s also a cool (and VERY Akira) look at the subsequent meltdown and chaos such power could engender in someone too emotionally unstable to properly harness it. But in stripping away the epic visual and sociopolitical themes of Akira the film becomes even more relatable.
You may have also read or heard that Chronicle also presents the found footage conceit in “a whole new way.” That’s not entirely true. The script, by Max Landis, confuses “ability” with “motivation” to a fairly egregious degree. In the beginning moments of the film the camera use seems justified, and in the second act it makes total sense – who wouldn’t film their own cool little stunts? I would!
But I certainly wouldn’t film myself robbing a convenience store. The writers (Trank developed the story with Landis) seem to think that having a character being able to control the camera telekinetically is the motivation. But it’s just a cool ability. To be honest, it’s at times a really cool ability. This particular conceit frees the film from the shackles many found-footage movies find themselves in and allows for some truly epic, and slick, shots. But there’s still a tipping point around the end of Act 2 when characters are constantly asking each other, “why are you filming this?”* When this happened I stepped almost completely out of the film because, in essence, it kept insisting that I do so.** It’s also a film that will include a character in a scene as a means to a different camera angle. ***
The performances are all fine, with Dane DeHaan being an easy standout as the tortured Andrew Detmer. He looks a bit like Gilbert Grape era DiCaprio, and it’s entirely possible he could have as rewarding of a career. I’m looking forward to seeing him in Wettest County In The World and The Place Beyond The Pines.
As far as Josh Trank is concerned, this is a hell of a debut. Chronicle is a hugely ambitious film for a first feature and I’m surprised it gets as much right as it does. He’s definitely a gifted guy who knows how to compose a shot (and a set piece) and I look forward to seeing more from him as well.
Chronicle is the kind of film whose strengths and weaknesses both grow as it progresses. While the found footage stuff isn’t a big deal at first, it grows consistently problematic enough to keep me at arms length from the awesomeness on display. But the awesomeness remains insistent, growing in equal measure, and eventually it invites you back inside for the spectacle. So even though logic is totally and ridiculously out the window by the time the film hits its climax… man, what a climax. Ultimately, awesome wins out.
*If you cut all of the “why are you filming this” and “put the camera down” lines from the movie it would be significantly shorter.
**At one point, a bit of Police Officer ADR informs us that they need to keep their camera rolling on a comatose hospital patient for their investigation.
*** While Ashley Hinshaw is certainly appealing and her character Casey is fairly fleshed out – I can’t help but wonder if the script wouldn’t have ditched her entirely if she didn’t have a camera.