Movie of the Week: Chronicle

After much last-minute deliberation, I fell on Chronicle for our Movie of the Week. I figured it would be a good change-of-pace movie from our comedic choices the last couple of weeks. On top of that, it had been awhile since I’d seen it myself, and figured it would be a good opportunity to revisit it for my own potential inspiration. And while the film had always stuck in my mind as a surprisingly solid piece of work, there was even more quality work on display here than I remembered, and my totally random choice ended up paying off handsomely.

It could certainly be argued as one of the best “superhero” movies of the last few years, but only if the definition was kept incredibly broad. Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis said when the movie was released that they were inspired more by Akira and Carrie than by superhero movies, which is probably for the best. Chronicle takes the general concept of superpowers and applies them to a more basic, essentially real-world tale of high school anxiety and anger… which is exactly the sort of new story I want to see more of in the superhero genre. As much as I enjoy a good tentpole actioner (hence the presence of Iron Man 3 on my Favorites of 2013 list) I do want to see the broad tropes of superheroes being applied to new stories, and Chronicle is a great object lesson in how to do that.

Besides the larger genre implications, Chronicle also displays some really great narrative and character structure. It does a good job of juxtaposing two dueling character arcs: of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), becoming confident and open for the first time only to feel doubly furious when things go wrong, and Matt (Alex Russell), who starts as a former popular kid so full of his own superiority and then is able to re-ground himself. The script then uses Steve (Michael B Jordan) as the fulcrum, a popular kid who is also emotionally open and considerate, representing the idea that you can be fun and popular like Andrew wants, without being self-centered the way that Matt used to be. This great triangle is balanced perfectly, with the ultimate resolution seeming to be that once someone has been as isolated, battered and belittled as Andrew has been, even success can be torture; the only solution is to have people in your life to be open and close with, but if that closeness comes too late it could add to the frustration. The filmmakers even use the emotional core of the story as a basis for the usually-infuriating found footage conceit. It’s established that Andrew feels a certain level of comfort viewing his life through a camera lens, and being able to detach himself slightly from others, and continues to do this all the way to the bitter end. Overall, a great movie, and a great precedent for superhero films.And now Shiran’s reaction:

I really liked Chronicle, even though I did spend the first half of the movie complaining that the boys were irrational in a way that took me out of the movie. Flying without protection or any sense of direction to get back home? Dumb, reckless teenage malarky. But the performances from the main cast and the gripping third act made me forgive my earlier issues. The concept of power becoming a poison is fairly predictable to the point of nearing cliche, so I was less moved by that element and more invested in the relationships the three friends all develop with each other. The most significant aspect of the film for me isn’t its genre elements nor it’s examination of found footage philosophy – it’s the dedication it has in exploring the fear and powerlessness that comes from letting someone in to  see the parts of yourself you’d rather hide.

Ironically the Fantastic Four casting news broke while we were watching Chronicle, giving me an opportunity to hit two movies with one lazy blog post. While some ignorant/whiny fans might take issue with the overall makeup of the team, I think it’s a dynamic and interesting cast, not at all what you’d expect, and at this point any unexpectedness in the superhero genre is welcome. Here’s hoping Trank and company can bring the same level of quality character work to bear on a much larger (and more predictably action-y) project. Anyway, we’ll be back next week with another movie, so stay tuned!

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