There’s a show on the TLC cable channel that features people who have won large sums of money in state lotteries and how sudden wealth changed their lives, either for better or worse. According to the show, having a big pile of cash dropped in your lap can cause more problems than it solves. Several lottery jackpot winners eventually had to file for bankruptcy because they were foolish with their money, invested poorly, gave too much away to friends and family, bought big houses and fast cars and were swindled by those looking to take advantage of their good fortune. While most of us dream of striking it rich in one way or another, no one is prepared when it actually happens. This week’s movie, “Chronicle,” follows three young men who are suddenly blessed with powers they never dreamed of and cursed by how it affects them.
Andrew Detmer (Dane Dehaan) is a high school student who is going through a tough time. His mother is dying of cancer and his father is an abusive alcoholic. He begins documenting his daily struggles with a video camera. He rides to school each morning with his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) who finds the video camera in his face somewhat annoying. Andrew is bullied at school and has few friends. The arrival of the video camera doesn’t improve his social standing either. Matt invites Andrew to a party being held at an abandoned warehouse. While there, Matt is approached by Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), popular athlete and student council president candidate. Steve tells Andrew to bring his camera to film something he and Matt have found in the woods near the warehouse. They find Matt standing next to a large hole in the ground. The hole seems to be emitting a sound. The three go down inside the hole and after walking through a tunnel system discover a large, growing crystalline structure as the source of the sound. As they touch it, it changes color and the sound becomes more intense. It’s emitting some kind of energy that’s interfering with the camera and eventually breaks it. Matt buys Andrew another camera so he can continue filming his life; but, there’s more to document as all three boys have developed the ability to move objects with their minds. If they over exert themselves they develop sudden nose bleeds; however, if they practice their powers, they can get stronger, moving larger objects further distances. Eventually, they are able to fly, nearly being killed by a passenger jet. Steve works to make Andrew more popular, but an incident at a party causes Andrew to withdraw from the others and he begins to explore the darker side of his abilities.
“Chronicle” is a cautionary tale about abuse, power and the abuse of power. It also is a personal story of friendship and the longing to belong. It has a greater depth and more character development than most teen-centric films. It also benefits from having likable young actors in the lead roles.
The premise of suddenly developing abilities beyond the average person is an attractive one for a movie. It appeals to the eight-year old in all of us who would love to be able to fly and have other super powers. What that youngster in us all never considers is how the petty and angry parts of ourselves would react with such abilities. Some of us would handle it well but I’m afraid many would fall into the trap of settling old scores and exacting revenge on those we perceive as our enemies.
The characters in “Chronicle” are written believably. None of their actions or reactions feels fake or phony. Each lead character is given his moment to shine or simmer as the case may be. Matt is presented as the most level headed of the three. He’s also the first to point out they could hurt people with their abilities if they don’t keep a lid on their emotions. Andrew is the sad sack of the crew. He’s had a hard life and it’s only getting harder with his mother dying and his father drinking and becoming more violent. It’s only natural he would be most likely to abuse his abilities. Steve is probably the one that is the most underwritten of the three. He’s presented as a happy-go-lucky kid whose biggest problem is a clingy girlfriend. We don’t get an idea of what his issues are or whether he’s hiding insecurity behind a façade of bravado. I would have liked to get a better idea about Steve and if everything in his life was as rosy as he made it appear. The popularity contest that is high school is presented convincingly with all the various layers of drama on display. From the nerds to the jocks to the popular girls to the bullies, it all comes across as depressingly accurate. As Andrew begins to go bad I’m surprised it didn’t turn into more of a school massacre story.
While I really liked the way the story was structured and how the characters behaved in a believable manner, there were a couple of issues I had with the movie. First, the event that drives Andrew over the edge felt kind of trivial. I don’t want to give too much away, but considering he says earlier in the film that he doesn’t drink then gets a little drunk at a party which leads to the event, that all strikes me as more of a “we’ll laugh about this later” kind of incident. Also, Andrew only lashes out at his father on two occasions despite his constant verbal abuse. If it was me (always a dangerous thing to say in a review), I would have given him a small taste of my power and threatened a much bigger demonstration if he kept messing with me, then crushed something in the room as a warning. Finally, the film is presented in a “found footage” format like “The Blair Witch Project.” While I don’t have an issue with it in general, I do have a minor bone to pick with the way it is used here: It is shot too well. We get some shaky images and views as the camera is laid down or tossed through the air, but the majority of the time the pictures are well framed, steady and just about perfect. After about half the movie, I began to be distracted by how good it looked. There should have been more messiness to the images to better convey it was shot by the characters involved in the story.
“Chronicle” is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking. There are a couple of graphic scenes involving Andrew and abuse from his dad. The scene where Andrew returns the favor is pretty violent as well. There’s a great deal of car and bus throwing along with one spider that is dismembered rather aggressively. The sexual content is mostly suggested or simulated by dancing. Teen drinking is on display at a couple of parties. Foul language is fairly common throughout.
When the film ended, I asked myself what I would have done had the same thing happened to me in high school. Would I have kept a lid on my emotions and my abilities under wraps? Or would I have settled old scores and taken advantage of my new powers? It’s difficult to say which way I would have gone. If I win the lottery one day perhaps we’ll find out.
“Chronicle” gets four guitars out of five.
Big budget, special effects-heavy blockbusters and small romantic films fill theatres this week. Vote for the next movie I see and review.
Journey 2: Mysterious Island—A young explorer receives a coded distress signal from a mysterious island where no island should exist. It's a place of strange life forms, mountains of gold, deadly volcanoes, and more than one astonishing secret.
Safe House—A young CIA operative, wanting the opportunity to prove himself, must deal with the most dangerous man he’ll ever encounter, a former top CIA agent who is now a traitor.
Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace 3D—The first installment of George Lucas’ sprawling space epic to be re-released in 3D.
The Vow—A young newlywed couple has their lives turned upside down when an accident causes the woman to develop amnesia, forgetting all about the man she married.
The Woman in Black—Daniel Radcliff stars in his first post-Potter film about a widowed lawyer on the verge of losing his job who must settle the estate of an eccentric old woman whose house is haunted by an evil spirit.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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