Firstly, sorry for the late appearance of this review. I had originally intended to see Chronicle on the 1st of February but the folks I was going with had to cancel. So that moved to the 4th and those folks cancelled. Eventually saw it on the 5th though. Secondly, Go see this film. Oh and there’s a review after the link should you care to read that.
It would be easy to classify Chronicle as either a “found footage” film or a meta super-hero movie. To be fair it is both but what sets it apart from the majority of either genre is that it attempts to transcend the archetypes of character and format you’ expect. The story isn’t about three friends that decide to fight crime. The camera’s operator isn’t kept off screen for the majority of the film. What we instead have is a film that creatively uses the powers given to these boys to enable some very unique camera work that allows the cast to interact all on screen in the way you’d expect from any other film. You’d probably question why do a found footage style film in the first place if the films lead, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), is using his new-found telekinetic skills to float the camera around. Why not just film it in a traditional way. The reason is simple. The camera is part of Andrews character.
Andrew has a troubled home life. His mother is dying of cancer and his father is an abusive drunk. Andrew is the weird kid at school and he hides behind his camera to create a barrier between himself and the world. This doesn’t always work though. As he is the weird kid with the camera he ends up getting picked on by the school bullies and and is treated as though he’s a pervert for filming anything female related. As a parallel there is a female student called Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who is attractive and popular and no-one bothers her for carrying a camera around wherever she goes. A lot of the films conflict comes from high school class tension. But that doesn’t mean Andrew’s two friends are typical high school archetypes.
Michael B Jordan is the school jock/future president Steve. Unlike the usual character of this type he’s a genuine and kind person that has no problems hanging around with a guy like Andrew. They barely know each other at the start but once they share the powers they have gained they develop a strong friendship. It’s a shame there isn’t more of him in the film as he’s a refreshing change from the norm. Joining them is Andrews cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who is the moral base for the group. After Andrew uses his powers t harm someone he’s the guy that sets up their rules. He’s also an intelligent, philosophy reading character who, at first, hides his smarts in an attempt to stay popular in school. Naturally as he has the strongest morals he is, in a sense, the main protagonist. The film is about Andrew though.
Another character worthy of discussion is Andrew’s father Richard (Michael Kelly, who you may remember from Defendor and The Adjustment Bureau). He’s clearly a man struggling with the slow death of his wife and his inability to get out of his depression. He takes it out his frustrations on his son, violently at times. We see this largely from Andrew’s perspective though so the context of his issues is kept in the realms of interpretation by the viewer. There’s a view of him that Andrew wants you to see so that when he does stand up to his father you’re rooting for him. It’s only when you think about the situation that Richard is in that you realise that he deserves some level of sympathy.
Essentially the powers are merely a device to tell a simple story well. The powers could easily have been replaced with a gun but then you wouldn’t have some of the great imagery that Chronicle provides. We have games of American Football played 30,000ft in the air. Views that float around our characters whilst they eat fast food on top of a building. There’s also a finale that uses multiple camera sources to great effect, something that’s helped by a number of subtly handled pieces of product placement in the form of a collection of mobile phones and iPads along with various security and TV camera footage.
The finale is really where the film flies. I’d say it’s worth seeing just for how epic it gets. Quite clearly there is a lot of references to Akira planted in the imagery in the films final act, for example Andrew is dressed rather similarly to Tetsuo was at the end of the anime epic. It’s no coincidence. director Josh Trank and writer Max “son of John” Landis are very much of the geek generation. Both are hardcore comic book and anime fans and it shows. This film almost makes the attempts of Hollywood to make an Akira movie obsolete. More likely though the powers that be will hear of the Akira parallels and push for that film to be made even quicker. Josh Trank has recently been announced as the director of the new Fantastic Four reboot. I have no doubts that he will be able to create quite an impressive film based on the quality on show here. It’s certainly in better hands than it was with Tim “I forgot to include” Story.
There are elements of the film that require criticism though. The choppy nature of the found footage style film is present here, although this is quite clearly telling a story rather than being an attempt to convince us that this is a real documentation of events. Apparently there will be a director’s cut on the Blu-ray release which will be interesting to see. The romance sub-plot between Matt and Casey is really only explored with a basic level of substance and I’d imagine that the deleted scenes involve fleshing that out and hopefully give us more of Steve. He’s a real jam up guy.
Chronicle is a nice refreshing take on the responsibility of power story that we’ve had drilled into us over the years. It’s a story told multiple times from Spider-man to Scarface, from Wall Street to Dear Wendy. This is a modern film for the entertainment culture of the world today. A world that doesn’t just take in stories via films or books but is well versed in the devices used by every story telling medium from comic books to Youtube. The film ends with an indication that the possibility of a sequel is very much real. I just hope they can come up with something to make the sequel feel as fresh as this film does.