Friday, November 13, 2009

Movie with Abe: Uncertainty

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Released November 13, 2009

Both Manhattan and Brooklyn have their appeal. Manhattan is a hubbub of activity and a city that never sleeps. Brooklyn is the quieter, calmer escape with more of a sense of nature that still maintains its connective ties to the metropolis. Some prefer the fast-paced circus of Manhattan, while others commute home after their long day of work to the more peaceful borough of Brooklyn. It’s fitting, then, that a film which is essentially two films, one about each borough, should begin on the Brooklyn Bridge that serves as a literal connector between the two.

Standing on the gateway to two different worlds, a young couple, Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins), flip a coin to decide where to spend July 4th, and promptly take off running in opposite directions. In Manhattan, Kate hails a cab and joins Bobby, who’s already inside. In Brooklyn, Bobby gets picked up by Kate in a minivan. The two realities are differentiated, besides their obvious settings, by the colors the characters wear. In Manhattan, Kate and Bobby wear yellow, and in Brooklyn, they wear green. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel “liked the way the colors played off each other and their relation to a traffic light.” McGehee notes that the choices were “practically motivated – yellow pops out in Manhattan, and when you leave the city, you see the green of Brooklyn.” The colors are a helpful reminder of which story to follow, but the two tales are so starkly different in pacing that it’s easy to tell them apart.

Bobby and Kate’s day Manhattan finds them quickly on the run after they find a cell phone in the backseat of their cab and Bobby decides to take the task of finding its owner upon himself. What starts as a noble charitable deed turns into an intense chase around the city, where Bobby and Kate must constantly think one step ahead of their pursuers. Their action-packed race through Manhattan takes excellent advantage of what the city has to offer, utilizing the subway and areas like Union Square and Chinatown to the fullest effect to enhance the realist feel of the chase. Both McGehee and Siegel grew up in California but relocated to New York City six years ago, and it’s clear that these guys know the city well and how best to use it to craft a thrilling sort of scavenger hunt.

Bobby and Kate’s visit to Brooklyn is an altogether different experience. Instead of hopping around the city, they arrive at Kate’s family’s home and stay there. It’s a tranquil, more revelatory story which digs into the relationship between these two under normal circumstances rather than tracking them while they’re fighting for their lives. Kate driving a minivan immediately suggests that this trip will be toned down, and it’s a fair predictor. Bobby and Kate are given the opportunity to interact with and trust other people, sharing their thoughts and discussing their future. It’s a wonderful window into the grand scheme of things, whereas the Manhattan story focuses on dealing with just one major, pressing problem.

The reality is that these two stories are still about the same people. Their lives are the same up until they flip that coin. McGehee and Siegel think of the two portions of the films as hypothetical, with “both sides of the bridge as kinds of stories.” Showcasing this couple in these two contrasting lights allows the audience to learn a lot about them, and putting them side-by-side and interweaving their execution is a fascinating exercise. Siegel discusses how the script was written without dialogue, and that much of the conversations were improvised. “Where the dialogue would have been in the script, we wrote description of what people would have been saying to each other. We wanted to workshop the scenes with the actors we actually cast,” McGehee says. He describes the audition process as an improvisational one, and notes that Gordon-Levitt and Collins were both eager to try the improvisation.

As the center of the film, Gordon-Levitt (“500 Days of Summer,” “Miracle at St. Anna”) and Collins (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “True Blood”) do a commendable job evoking radically different sentiments in the two situations, and their pairing is a remarkable one. Few other actors have much screen time, but the always reliable Olivia Thirlby (“New York, I Love You,” “Juno”) stands out. Despite solid lead performances, this isn’t a movie about acting. It’s a film about a choice, and one that follows the splintering of a decision into two possible realities. It’s as if there’s something in it for everyone, and loving both stories isn’t necessary. They make up a cumulative experience and shouldn’t be taken apart. The deciding moment is crucial, and this film underlines just how unalike consequences of a choice can be.


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