Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review: Uncertainty

Uncertainty ***
Directed by:
Scott McGehee & David Siegel.
Written By: Scott McGehee & David Siegel.
Starring: Lynn Collins (Kate), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Bobby), Assumpta Serna (Sylvia), Nelson Landrieu (Felix), Manoel Felciano (Greg), Jenn Colella (Emily), Giana Luca (Annabelle), Sofia Luca (Adelaide), Olivia Thirlby (Sophie).

Uncertainty is a fascinating movie that looks at one day in the life of two people that sprints off into two wildly different directions. It’s the July 4th, and a young couple, Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins) have two different options before them. On one hand, they could attend a family barbecue at Kate’s parent’s house. On the other, they can blow it off, have a fun day by themselves and go to a party thrown by one of their friends. Their choice - which is basically between freedom and responsibility - echoes throughout each separate storyline.

In a way, the movie is little more than a stylistic exercise, not unlike Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, which told essentially the same story once as a comedy and once as a tragedy. But writer/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel take both their storylines seriously, and spin off two wildly different storylines, that essentially add up to the same thing.

In the story line where Bobby and Kate decide to blow off the barbecue and have fun, they don’t really know what they are getting themselves into. They find a phone in the backseat and this seemingly innocent act has unforeseen repercussions. Soon, they are been tracked by at least two rival factions, both of whom want the phone, and are willing to pay, or kill, to get it. This segment is a tense, well made thriller, not unlike Hollywood thrillers like Cellular or Phone Booth (but a little more intelligent).

In the story line where they go to a barbecue, the movie takes the form of a domestic drama. Kate’s mother is worried about her, since she has become an actress, and is still struggling years later. Now Kate’s younger sister (Olivia Thirlby) wants to follow in her footsteps, and she doesn’t like it very much. The mother is further concerned that Bobby, a musician, won’t be able to support her daughter either. While this segment is not as exciting as the other one, it is no less tense, just in another sense.

I don’t want to give too many secrets of the movie away, except that I will say that the conflict between freedom and responsibility I mentioned at the top of the review comes up in different, and in some cases the same, form in each storyline. But in each case, the movie takes these decisions seriously, and perhaps because these are the same people they essentially come to the same conclusion.

The performances in the movie are top notch. Lynn Collins is a natural beauty, with a wonderful screen presence. She seems at home in each of the two storylines. But the better performance is by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who once again gives a great performance. Following strong work in Mysterious Skin, Brick and Stop-Loss, among others, Levitt is proving to be one the best actors of his generation. There isn’t a moment of vanity in his performance, he just dives right in.

Because of the structure of the movie, some of the emotional impact is unfortunately lost. This is a trade off that the filmmakers make in order to tell their story their way. The directors, who have Suture, The Deep End and Bee Season on their resume, seem to like to change it up with each film, taking themselves into different directions in each film. The one thing they all seem to have in common as that they are uncommonly intelligent, well made films that put most Hollywood product to shame. Uncertainty may not be quite as good as some of their previous work, but it is quite interesting. And that makes it worth tracking down.

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