Movie Review | ‘Big Miracle’ entertains, ‘Chronicle’ provides depth
NEW YORK -- "Free Willy," the 1993 whale rescue film, looks like child's play when compared to "Big Miracle," in which not one but three giant mammals are trapped in Arctic ice, and it takes a whole lot more than a sleepy Alaskan town to save them.
Directed by Ken Kwapis -- and based on the real-life events recounted in Thomas Rose's 1989 book "Freeing the Whales" -- the film is an animal rights activist's dream. Families, neighbors, corporations and even superpowers set aside their differences for a spell and work together, seeing in the innocent cetaceans a metaphor for peace and understanding.
It's 1988, and television reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) is biding his time in Alaska, hoping to land the really big story that will serve as his ticket to a better job in the Lower 48. Knocking about the desolate town of Barrow with local Inupiat boy Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney), Carlson stumbles on a hole in the offshore ice.
Within it he finds a headline waiting to happen: Peeking out as they surface for air is the cutest family of California gray whales you've ever seen, a clan Carlson eventually names after television's Flintstones: Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm (not Pebbles, as the baby is a boy, you see).
Their migration south was halted due to freezing ice. Trapped five miles from open water, they'll drown unless something is done to free them.
Carlson files his story -- and catches the attention of NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw who is -- so Jack Amiel and Michael Begler's script informs us -- "a sucker for these animal stories." Carlson's piece is broadcast nationally, and overnight the world takes notice. The media descend on tiny Barrow, unprepared for the frigid conditions and lack of amenities.
The story's twists and turns eventually involve Carlson's ex-girlfriend, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who runs the local chapter of Greenpeace, and oil magnate J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson).
The "Big Miracle" emerges as an inspiring and uplifting feature suitable for all but the youngest viewers.
The film contains a few mild oaths and one semi-profane expression. The Catholic News Service classification is adults and adolescents.
"Quis ut Deus?" This Latin motto, traditionally associated with St. Michael the Archangel (whose Hebrew name itself has a similar meaning), translates as "Who is like God?" That question could serve as the tagline for the reasonably original, curiously dark "Chronicle," an exploration of the troubling results that ensue when mere mortals obtain godlike powers.
Stumbling on a mysterious object, a trio of teens -- social outcast Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his duffle-coated, philosophy-mumbling cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and their smooth, more socially accomplished acquaintance Steve (Michael B. Jordan) -- find themselves endowed with telekinesis and the ability to fly.
Initially, the boys do no more with their newfound gifts than goof around and play pranks. However, darker emotions and more serious consequences soon come to the fore. Andrew, for instance, is struggling to cope with an alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) and a dying mother (Bo Petersen).
Director Josh Trank conveys all of this in the pseudo-found footage style of "The Blair Witch Project." Though that conceit feels, by now, more than a little overused, it nonetheless contributes to an atmosphere of realism. It also lends urgency to the moral debates in which the principals engage -- which for viewers of faith will likely represent the main appeal of "Chronicle."
This isn't, after all, far-off -- it's Seattle. And those struggling with the responsibilities of power are not caped crusaders, but high school boys still stumbling their way through conversations with the opposite sex.
Likewise, the adversaries these characters confront are not cartoonish villains but such widespread preoccupations as abusive parents, relatives in pain, high medical costs and friends lost to death.
Equally realistic, no doubt, is the vulgarity with which screenwriter Max Landis has freighted the youthful dialogue. Those adult viewers, however, willing to listen past the surfeit of words for the scripturally congruent message underlying them may consider themselves sufficiently rewarded by a morally engaged -- if not universally engaging -- piece of moviemaking.
The film contains limited action violence, scenes of physical abuse, an implied premarital encounter, a scattering of profanity, at least one rough term, pervasive crude language and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is adults.
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