Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some thoughts on Chronicle, the big found footage superhero movie hitting this weekend.
Harry saw the movie a couple weeks ago and flipped for it and in what could be an AICN first held an advance screening of a Fox movie with director Josh Trank in attendance. Couple that with my twitter feed being filled with lots of “holy shit, this is actually good” tweets from my critic friends and I went into the film cautiously optimistic.
Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I’ve seen two back to back found footage films that I’ve liked (V/H/S and now Chronicle), although I will say of the two that Chronicle would have greatly benefited from being a traditional film instead of found footage. The whole conceit of V/H/S is that it’s crappy video quality handicam stuff, whereas Chronicle is a Spider-Man original tale told through the lens of Unbreakable.
While I didn’t hate the found footage aspect I would say that I liked the movie despite that technique not because of it.
The set up is simple: three high school kids find what looks to be Superman’s space ship from Richard Donner’s movie that provides them with telekinetic abilities and shit gets real after that.
The real success of the film, and why I’m positive it’s working for so many people, is in building the three leads, especially Andrew (Dane DeHaan). He’s the one with the camera, whose eyes you see the story through. The poor bastard has a miserable existence. His mother is dying, his father’s an out of work abusive asshole, the neighborhood thugs give him shit and his school life is a living hell of torment and isolation.
Part of the movie plays that up as a revenge fantasy for the geekier folks in the audience. It’s not a new idea (Peter Parker anyone?), but it works. But what would happen if Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben was an abusive drunk, if he never had that guidance?
The flick plays around with what’s good, what’s bad and just how important friendship is in defining both, making it a surprisingly deep story about relationships… oh, and about flying and crushing cars with your mind and other fun stuff, too. But with the foundation of really solid character work you actually feel for the three kids as stuff starts to get out of control.
Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play the other members of the super-powered trio. Alex is the nice guy with a strong moral compass and Michael is the popular kid that is friends with everybody. He jokes about being president and it’s a testament to his performance that you kind of believe that was the track he was on before unlocking his super mind powers.
Russell’s Matt Garetty is the one with the least development and from director Josh Trank’s post-movie Q&A it seems that of the three Russell suffered the most from heavy edits in post-production. That made complete sense to me because the Matt’s a fairly one-dimensional character in the movie right now, which is out of place because the other two are so well developed.
There’s a whole subplot between Matt and a cute blonde bagger girl that right now feels like an excuse to bring in another camera (she records everything… for her blog, you see) so they can cut to different angles that feels gutted. I’m glad to hear that Trank shot that stuff (and promised a “kick-ass” director’s cut on Blu-Ray) and it wasn’t just a brainfart from him and screenwriter Max Landis.
But the movie really rests on DeHaan’s shoulders and he nails it. He can play brooding and angry just as well as happy and vibrant. The kid shows a broad range and really hooks you into his personal journey, makes you feel the highs and lows of these new superpowers as he does. It’s a great performance and I think he’s a lot of the reason people have been surprised by this film.
I’m curious to see where Josh Trank goes from here. Rumor has it he’s in the running to take over The Fantastic Four and I honestly don’t know what to think about that. I mean, it’s clear he has a good eye for casting and can work very well with actors, but his visual style is hard to nail down because… well, I don’t think Fantastic Four is going to be a found footage movie.
You can tell that Trank’s sensibilities can go easily from the small, precise character driven moment to the epic Akira-like battle royale, but I don’t really have a taste for Trank’s personal style yet. I can see his influences, his tastes, but not his style and I don’t think we’ll see that until he does a more traditional feature.
That said, he’s already shown more talent for that type of film than Tim Story ever did and Trank would have to direct with his eyes closed from his trailer while blasting death metal to make movies worse than Story did.
But those are my overall thoughts on Trank and his new movie. Believe the hype, to a degree. Chronicle isn’t a game changer, it’s just a really well made morality tale with some giant action and well-developed characters. It’s a really solid flick that gets a tad bogged down in explaining the filmmaking style to the audience, but makes up for it by approaching the found footage subgenre with a little telekinesis-inspired creativity.