© 2012 Ray Wong
Call it Cloverfield meets X-Men if you want, but that's what Chronicle is about: a bunch of teenagers discovering their superpowers, while being caught on video.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a shy, withdrawn teenager with a low self-esteem. His mother is seriously ill and his out-of-work father is abusive. Andrew's only friend is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who is a popular boy at school. When Andrew gets a new video camera, he starts to chronicle his life every chance he can.
While being at a party, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the super cool class president candidate, asks Andrew to follow him to a remote clearing. It appears that Matt and Steve found something: a hole in the ground. They discover something strange inside and the hole and they can't remember what happens next. Soon, they realize they are slowly develop special powers: the ability to control objects, including their own bodies. Soon they even learn how to fly.
They try to keep the revelation among themselves, but an incident almost almost reveals their secret. Worse, they realize how dangerous their power could be if they don't learn to control them. Matt and Steve try to set some ground rules, but Andrew refuses.
Andrew begins to let his powers get to his head. As he becomes more popular, he also realizes his limitation and humiliation if he doesn't fully use his powers to achieve his goals. Andrew is now seduced by his powers. When tragedy strikes, Andrew finally loses his control and gives in to the dark side.
Dane DeHaan (True Blood) is perfect as Andrew, the introverted nerdy kid who discovers his new super powers. DeHaan is capable of revealing the vulnerability and darkness of his character. Unfortunately, as the anti-hero, his character, while sympathetic, is rather annoying and irritating. Alex Russell (Almost Kings) has a much more likable role as cousin Matt. Unfortunately, the story is told mostly from Andrew's point of view with only slight deviations that follow Matt (I'll talk about this later), so Russell doesn't get to do much of his stuff to give his character more depth.
Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails) does a good job playing the charismatic Steve. He shows enough sides of the character (from cockiness to a genuine earnestness and concern for his friends) to make the character real. Michael Kelly (The Adjustment Bureau) is in good form as Andrew's abusive father, but his cliched role doesn't allow him to add much to it. Ashley Hinshaw (Rites of Passage) is one of the two females in the entire cast. With not much to do, she hardly makes any impression.
Written by Max Landis (Dupe), the screenplay copies heavily on Cloverfield in that the entire story is told by handheld video (or footage from surveillance cameras where the main cameras are not available). The storytelling technique works very well in the first half of the story, where the plot is more intimate, dramatic and authentic. The first part has a realness to it that makes you want to care about these characters, even when some of them continue to be annoying. The drama unfolds naturally and organically and the use of the handheld camera is believable.
The concept, however, starts to unravel as the plot progresses into an action-thriller. Landis begins to rely on contrived methods to continue the conceit: other people's cameras, surveillance cameras, etc. It becomes rather tiresome. Not to mention the story feels one-sided, as it's told mostly from Andrew's point of view. While Andrew is a main character, he is only one of the three, and he is a weak character (despite his dark side). It's really difficult to pull off an unreliable, unlikable character as your protagonist, especially when he gives in to the dark side (One only needs to study Star Wars I, II, and III -- even George Lucas couldn't do it well).
That said, director Josh Trank (The Kill Point) has a good eye for the "documentary" style storytelling. His use of the handheld camera gives the film a nice realness. It works exceptionally well in the first half of the movie, and we're left with suspense and a "right there, right now" feeling. It is only when the story arrives at the inevitable action sequences and climax that it becomes clear that the technique doesn't quite work for the entire story. Still, Trank does his best.
Chronicle is a really clever high concept that works most of the time, especially during the first half. It is during the second half when the science-fiction/fantasy becomes rather unbelievable and over the top.
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood
Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Max Landis, Josh Trank
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
Running Time: 84 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 7
Total - 7.4 out of 10.0