Nearly a year ago, rumours started spreading that Warner Brothers were seeking to adapt the landmark Japanese future-punk anime, Akira, into a Keanu Reeves vehicle, with Albert Hughes set to direct. Yet, after numerous problems with casting, budgets and script rewrites, this live-action remake seemed destined to remain confined to development hell. And then, in the same month that the production had originally been green lit to go into production, a miracle happened; it arrived fully formed on cinema screens, helmed by first time writer director Josh Trank, and no longer with Warner’s backing but independently produced, with a fraction of the budget, and at a break-neck 83 minute run-time. Only, it isn’t called Akira anymore. It’s called Chronicle.
While the set-up differs, at heart it remains a story of friends confronted with the unknown and how it changes them. Andrew, our principle narrator for most of the film, is every bit the socially awkward teenager that Tetsuo was in Akira. Upon the manifestation of his telekinetic powers, he begins to resent his reliance upon his closest friends and seeks to prove himself strong enough to break out from the constrictions that might otherwise have been imposed on him. But, even in his successes, he still finds himself out of place within the world and unaccepted by it. And, just as in Akira, is eventually overcome by the very power which he sought, both mentally and physically, even down to the crippled and bloodied right arm.
Where the films diverge is in the background afforded to the doomed anti-hero. Andrew’s relationship with his alcoholic father and terminally-ill mother may be drawn in broad strokes, but it remains touching and chilling in equal measures, according his arc with a genuine sense of believability. The central tragedy of the film lies in Andrew’s attempts to break away from who he is and where he came from, culminating in a scene where he dons his father’s old fire-fighting uniform, essentially becoming the bully he had grown to loathe. This scene of the birth of an identity hits so hard precisely because it runs counter to the usual fetishistic representation we have grown so accustomed to seeing within the superhero genre.
Chronicle unfortunately finds itself burdened with the misfortune of being ‘yet another’ found footage film. Whilst I won’t be one to detract from that genre as a whole, the style feels mismatched with this movie. The whole aesthetic rests upon the idea that the central protagonist is someone so ill at ease with the world that he needs to create a barrier between it and himself and, as such, views his whole life through a lens. It’s a shame then that, in doing so, this barrier extends to the audience as well. From the inconsistency of the film quality, to the jumps from CCTV footage to cameras held by characters of varying narrative importance, the audience is constantly reminded of how this is being filmed to such an extent as to be unable to concentrate on what is being filmed.
Overall though, the film works on enough levels that any problems are easily overlooked. The acting is solid, the script genuinely engaging, and the characters sympathetic. It’s not your usual superhero movie but, considering how many of those are released every year, maybe that’s no bad thing.
By Vitor de Magalhaes