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Disturbing Realism Recorded in Chronicle

  • Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Disturbing Realism Recorded in <i>Chronicle</i>

DVD Release Date: May 15, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: February 3, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking)
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 83 min.
Director: Josh Trank
Actors: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly

It’s a story of friendship found and lost. A story of ordinary mortals turned superheroes (of a sort). A story of what might happen if immature, adolescent boys were given overwhelming powers. Things go about as well as you might expect... which is to say, not well at all.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan, TV's In Treatment) is the misfit of the group, a slightly creepy loner with a dying mother, abusive alcoholic father, and a new video camera. He decides to ‘chronicle’ everything and takes his camera everywhere, which is how we manage to get in on the action. Andrew first uses the camera as a barrier to keep a safe distance from other people but before long, he’s living vicariously through the lens and hardly seems to exist off-camera, even in his own mind. (It’s a credit to DeHaan’s skillful performance that we easily follow his emotional journey even while he holds his feelings so close.)

Andrew’s only claim to friendship is his cousin Matthew (Alex Russell), a likeable boy who tries to drag his lame cousin out of his shell. Matthew drags Andrew along to a party (camera in tow) where they join forces with popular “vote for me” Steve (Michael B. Jordan, Red Tails) to explore a... thing. What the thing is remains unclear, but it gives the three boys bloody noses—and supernatural powers.

The three boys do a stellar job of making their “types” into believable characters navigating the swirling waters of high school with various levels of success. They seem normal, even when playing football in the clouds or building Lego structures sans hands. There’s no comic book “we can save the world” kind of plot twist here, just the logical progression of boys who discover they have singular powers. What average guy wouldn’t use that gift to play a few practical jokes or try to break into the popular crowd and get in good with the ladies?

Former victim Andrew revels in his new-found power and popularity. Matthew is the conscientious one, trying to impose rules and sanity on the group, while Steve just wants everybody to be happy and have a good time. The story follows the arc of the three boys’ unlikely friendship until it all goes horribly wrong. How could it not? Power corrupts, and when power is given to boys with minimal moral standards (not to mention raging hormones and emotional issues), misuse and mayhem is inevitable.

Impressively, especially for a teen film, the dialogue is unforced and sadly natural (“sadly” because while the language is often coarse, it’s also typical of many high school-ers). The “found film” documentary style of Chronicle could have been annoying, but instead manages to appear remarkably realistic. It helps that Andrew soon learns to hold his camera through telekinesis, resulting in a steady picture. Even later, when our young protagonists are too busy to hold a camera, we keep up on the action through security camera footage, camera phones, and the like. While this may sound contrived, it doesn’t feel that way.

Unfortunately, all this realism makes the film sometimes hard to watch. Andrew’s dysfunctional home life has left him so emotionally crippled he doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of right and wrong. He has a lot of rejection and pent-up anger to manage—and that, coupled with the ability to crush a car with one hand, is an explosive combination.

Adding to the discomfort is the plight of Andrew’s mother, a chronically-ill woman who can’t afford her pain meds. (A bit of a political statement with this subplot?) It’s her situation that finally pushes Andrew over the edge. Without his frightful powers he still might have become a serial killer; he gives off that kind of vibe. But with them... let’s just say that at the end of the film the city of Seattle has some serious rebuilding to do.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Implied drug or tobacco use; alcoholic (and frequently drunk) adult shown surrounded by beer bottles; much discussion of drunkenness; adults drinking; teen drinking at parties. Terminally ill woman shown needing medication the family can’t afford.
  • Language/Profanity: Profanity not constant, but common. Sh**, pus**, ***hole, dou***bag, bi***,  bullsh**, scre** up, son calls father “idiot”, the Lord’s name taken in vain several times in a variety of ways, violent nosebleed referred to as a “face period,” significant hostility, disrespect, and name-calling even when not using profanity.
  • Sex/Nudity: Sex is much discussed, sometimes accompanied by lewd gestures; boys describe themselves as another boy’s “mistress” in response to his girlfriend’s jealousy; camera lingers on cheerleaders in uniform and miscellaneous ‘booty’; girls’ skirts are blown by fan to show underwear; teen boy shown apparently in between sexual encounters with a girl; teen described as “becoming a man” as he is presumed to be losing his virginity at a party; girl shown leaving room after failed intercourse, the boy is pulling up his pants (wearing underwear), he appears to have thrown up on her; scantily-clad girls at various parties; girl drapes herself over boy; several couples shown leaving parties to have sex, kissing, foreplay . . . in short, there’s a lot of teen sex either wished for, talked about, attempted, or accomplished throughout the film.
  • Violence: Abusive father slaps around son who later returns the favor; fistfights; one boy has teeth ripped out and we later see the perpetrator admiring his dental trophies; bullying accompanied by shoving and punches; car forced through guardrail into water; boy struck by lighting (fatally); boy hit by airplane and later by a bus; man blames son for wife’s death; as time goes on the action becomes progressively more violent with guns, robbery, shooting, attempted murder, explosions, helicopter crashes, buildings demolished, bodies and vehicles tossed through the air and dropped from great heights; multiple instances of blood and injuries shown; one character impaled with a giant spear. Not for the squeamish.
  • Spiritual Themes: One boy is fond of quoting philosophers. After a prank the boys say, “Ignore us, we’re just Mormons.” (To be fair, it might have been “morons” since their enunciation wasn’t exactly clear.) The boys talk about going to Tibet to visit the “enlightened” monks there as a way to find peace. One character says “You’re not a bad person and that’s what matters” which is interesting considering the havoc wrought by said not-bad person. None of the characters have much of a moral compass.