Chronicle Review


With found-footage movies cleaning up at the box office over quite an extended period of time now, it seemed inevitable that they’d move past their horror roots and into other genres. Chronicle is the found-footage superhero movie, and it’s one of the most unique movie-going experiences in years. Those expecting a low-budget Spider-Man will be disappointed. Though some of the themes are the same (the tagline for Chronicle could have easily been “With great power comes great responsibility”), it looks and plays out more like District 9.

The three principals are loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and the school’s golden boy, Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Though they have little in common, they’re brought together suddenly when, at a party, they find a strange hole in the middle of a field. Steve, always the adventurer, jumps down, followed by Matt, then Alex (whose handheld camcorder serves as our window into this world). What happens down there is unclear (the camera doesn’t exactly agree with the giant glowing blue and red crystal they find), but the end result is what’s truly mind-boggling: Andrew, Matt, and Steve have superpowers.

They’re able to move objects telekinetically, though at first, even the slightest use of their powers results in a massive nosebleed. But they soon deduce that they need to condition their powers. So they start small—legos, baseballs, Andrew’s camera. Soon, however, they’re moving cars and flying, but the more powerful they become, the more fractured their new group is. Steve and Matt simply want to use their powers to make sure they’ve got it good at school, and for a while, Andrew seems content with finally being popular. But he’s a very troubled young man, and starts to think of himself as some kind of evolutionary marvel. “The apex predator” he starts calling himself, and cool tricks and sight gags aren’t enough to satisfy his appetite for power.

Yes, this is technically an origin story, but the similarities between Chronicle and Captain America or Green Lantern end there. This doesn’t play out in any of the ways we’ve become accustomed to. The conflict that arises is a direct result of them, not some dastardly evildoer, and as such, there never really comes a time during which they need to harness their powers for the greater good.

Chronicle covers a lot over a scant 80-minute running time. It needs to create believable character arcs for all three individuals that cover some very extreme facets of their personalities. To accomplish this, director Josh Trank opts for this you-are-there style of filmmaking—found footage. It’s not for everyone, and it’s hard to argue that it isn’t played out at least a little, but here, it undeniably elevates the material. It’s hard to wrap your head around the concept at first, and Trank is forced to cheat on occasion, though his cheats are always explained and sometimes quite clever (especially during the film’s climax). Still, the hand-held camerawork lends a great deal of intimacy to the film. You’ll really connect with the characters because we’re along for the ride with them.

All three actors are professionals, though they are far from household names. Michael B. Jordan is perhaps the most recognizable face (he was on Friday Night Lights for a number of years). He also gives the film’s most appealing performance. Steve is clearly destined for greatness, and Jordan, a real natural on screen, imbues him with humanity that most popular kids in high school are lacking. The film’s other leads are less successful, but far from inadequate. Alex Russell has the most thankless role of the main trio, only because Matt never feels like a clearly defined character. To play Andrew, meanwhile, Dane DeHaan has to go through a significant transformation. For the most part, he’s up to the task, though there are times when you can see him really stretching.

Chronicle is an intense film, especially during the final action scene, which is well-staged, but probably goes on a little too long. Still, it’s a breathless, bloody sequence that will make or break your opinion on the film. There will be some who are turned off by the intensity of the camerawork. Others will think the film took to many shortcuts to get to this point. For me, Chronicle works. It’s much better than its Super Bowl weekend release would typically signify, but it’s also a far more difficult watch than you’d ever expect.

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