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Review: 'Chronicle' succeeds despite mediocre and generic plotline

Dane DeHaan and hand-held camera shooting format combine to make film enjoyable

By Eli Cohen
On March 2, 2012

  • Dane DeHaan portrays protagonist Andrew Detmer in Chronicle. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

All high school students think they're invincible. But what happens when three of them actually are? This is the question that "Chronicle" seeks to answer.

Shot in the same format as "The Blair Witch Project," in which everything is shown through a hand-held camera operated by one of the protagonists, "Chronicle" follows three high school students who gain superpowers after being exposed to… something. What exactly that something is we never find out, only that it is blue, pulsates, and causes one hell of a hangover.

From there, the plot follows a pretty straightforward descent into evil that audiences have come to expect from this kind of good verses evil movie. The socially outcast character who is abused by his father gets darker and darker, and soon the others must choose between family and the good of the world. In fact, upon seeing the trailer for this film, audiences can predict pretty much exactly what happens.

The crazy part is, despite being utterly predictable and having a generic plot, this movie is really good. It is powerful, grim, and action-packed. What's more, the special effects kept me enraptured throughout.

Even the filming style, which only a few movies in the history of cinema ("The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" are the only ones that come to mind) have used, is done cleverly. It is done in a way that always shows exactly enough, but leaves the audience wanting more.

One of the most alluring aspects of the film is the acting. All three stars are 25-year old up-and-comers, with the best known of the main actors being Michael B. Jordan, who played the heartbreaking character Wallace in season one of the HBO series "The Wire."

Dane DeHaan, who plays Andrew, the central character, expresses just the right mixture of pathetic, tragic, and threatening in his portrayal as his character rises through the cutthroat world of high school popularity only to be shot down once he is at the top.

Of course, Hollywood is not lacking superhero movies these days. There are at least 12 such films slated to come out in 2012, with the most famous being "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises." In the face of these titans of the industry, how can a movie like "Chronicle" compete? The answer is DeHaan.

The film is not coy about what will happen to its protagonist. Between the trailer and the opening scene, Andrew is yelled at, and later beaten, by his drunk father. There was no doubt in my mind what was going to happen to the poor kid. Yet DeHaan portrays the character with such a vulnerability at first that one cannot help but empathize with him, even though you know this is only being built up so audiences will understand what makes him snap.

Hollywood is criticized a lot these days for recycling old storylines, and rightly so. There are a lot of bad movies that simply cannot come up with a plot of their own – "No Strings Attached" and "Friends With Benefits" are good examples. However, and I never thought I would say this, the generic plotline works for this film. It allows the audience to relax, enjoy the ride, and watch some kids fly.


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