Notable Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Review: Welcome to Hollywood, Josh Trank. Our young director’s only other real credit was the Spike TV heist drama “The Kill Point,” but his pairing with another relative unknown Max Landis (yes, John Landis’ son) created a surprisingly fresh take on the handheld camera genre. In all honesty, I expected nothing but another generic output of superpower clichés and cheap first person camera tricks, but Chronicle proved to have much more depth than “kids find superpowers.” Sure, this superhero flick doesn’t have big stars, flashy CGI, fantasy sets, or mythical backstories…but excels in depicting how power can corrupt and distort reality if let into the wrong hands. A movie like Green Lantern was all shiny and bright, but with an uninspired and plot-hole ridden story amounted to nothing but trash. Chronicle is quite the opposite, and is sure to be a launching point for all careers involved.
Andrew Detmer (DeHaan) is your typical loner high school student, raised in a home with a dying mother and abusive father. His only real friend is cousin Matt (Russell), who pushes him to evolve socially and not let time pass him by. In an effort to deal with his demons, Andrew starts carrying around a camcorder to record his everyday life, as a form of protection. In one of Matt’s attempts to get Andrew blossoming, the two attend a rave in an abandon and secluded farm. Andrew of course gets harassed and sits outside by himself, until prospective class president Steve Montgomery (Jordan) gets Andrew and his camera to investigate some kind of cave system with him and Matt. Going deeper and deeper, the teens find a strange glowing…thing. Interfering with the equipment, the camera goes dead just as the boys appear to be in trouble. When Andrew turns his new camera on, we see the three have been blessed with mental powers usable on command. Andrew now records because of the unbelievable situation, and shows how their powers grow stronger with practice. But as Andrew’s problems only increase, his new-found power starts seeming like the answer. Matt and Steve have to worry about Andrew flying off the handle and putting lives in danger, but as Andrew proves he is the strongest, can the other two even control him?
True or False, that dude looks like Leo DiCaprio…
So, on with the gushing. Trank avoided the same old recycled shots from First Person style camera shooting by utilizing clever incorporation of superpowers and also a character’s persona. As stated, Andrew first started recording before the superpowers to chronicle (Ohhh!) his life. We get a sense for Andrew as the man hiding behind the camera, showing the depressing daily routine through his eyes directly. This is how Trank builds sympathy towards Andrew, making the viewer being the one bullied instead of just watching Andrew receive the torment. But after the powers are gained, Andrew starts using his abilities to float the camera above him or turn the camera on himself, abandoning first person and giving us the regular third person “fly on the wall” perspective. We also get a sense for his changing psyche, as he goes from passive documentarian to center stage. Trank found a way to not only enhance character development but also spice up the delivery a bit, showing out of the box direction and decision-making that dares break new ground in an already overdone genre.
Dane DeHaan did a magnificent job as the tormented Andrew, taking his rage out on those who unjustly inflict pain. The character Andrew suffered from an unfortunate amount of hardships, making him a villain you hate to hate. Yes, Andrew is hands down the “bad guy” of Chronicle, but only after society drives him to such a state. The story is as much a commentary on social pressures and revenge than the misuse of limitless power, surprisingly with grace and maturity despite the young age of our characters. Characters Matt and Steve were the more childish and playful users of their powers, so Trank/Landis don’t cheat us on the mindless fun some teenagers could have with telekinesis and flight, but Andrew keeps the antics grounded with his ever distorted view of right and wrong. Moral of the story? Never pick on the nerdy kid, you never know when he’ll generate the power to use an invisible lasso. Word to the wise.
Of course the action was also make or break for Chronicle, which finishes with a heart stopping bang. Man, the end climax was full of energy and destruction, again stripping down the usually glitzy battle scenes with a more organic and beat-em-up type superhero battle. Quick, fast-paced, furious, gritty, and bare-knuckled; the same sloppy execution found in a schoolyard, but on a scale large enough to incorporate super strength and flying people. CGI was thankfully spot on, keeping viewers actually in the film during the more preposterous scenes like flight and levitation. Here were three teenagers playing football amongst the clouds, yet we’re focused more of the actions than reality. Chronicle‘s strength is solid execution and clarity, saying screw it to the “why” and sticking with the “what now,” the meat of what really matters.
Chronicle won me over numerous times, from the wacky pranks the teens would pull to Andrew’s impaired and conflicted judgement based on cruel circumstances. Think about it realistically, three kids who aren’t close to fully developing proper decision-making skills are granted powers making them seemingly unstoppable; sounds like the plot to a sh*tty teen raunchy comedy. Instead, Trank presents a genre-bending characterization of the age-old adage: with great power comes great responsibility. An overplayed theme in a now overplayed method (first person) no doubt, but through intelligent shot selection and focused barebones writing show not all these superpower flicks need to be the next Thor or Iron Man. Given different circumstances, Chronicle could have been a dud, but instead lets some young guns show off their skills in a veteran ruled business.
Final Rating: 7.5 dancing teddy bears out of 10
If only their antics stayed so harmless….