' ' Cinema Romantico: Uncertainty

Monday, August 02, 2010


Forget the gimmick. Okay, okay, you can't really forget the gimmick, not when the gimmick is what begins the film. Not when Bobby (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins) are standing on the Brooklyn Bridge on the Fourth of July where they are faced with a monumental decision, a decision involving the fact that Kate is pregnant with Bobby's child, they have barely known each other ten months, and Bobby, a Canadian, lacks an all important green card. What to do? So Bobby flips a coin. And from that point forward "Uncertainty" (2009), written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, transitions into two movies, one part John Woo, one part Jonathan Demme, cutting back and forth between the different What If? scenarios, one Green and one Yellow - even color coded right down to the clothing and vehicles driven (a little device I could have done without, frankly).

Movie #1: In the back of (ahem) a yellow taxi the pair finds a cellphone. Kate wants to turn it over to the driver. Bobby decides to call a few numbers on the phone and try to track down the owner. Ah, but doesn't he know Werner Herzog's Law Of Helping Your Fellow Man - that is, no good comes from helping your fellow man. Two men call Bobby, claiming the phone is theirs. One is set to meet Bobby and Kate where they are having breakfast. He gets shot to death. The second person calls again and now Bobby, prompted a bit by a sudden Lady Macbeth-ish Kate, decide to demand a ransom which finds them doing a bit of dirty dealings all over the streets of Manhattan.

Movie #2: Bobby and Kate attend a barbecue at her parents' home. They find a stray dog and take it in, determined to somehow track down its owner, and while Movie #1 is jumping in and out for a moment you might think "Oh no, the owner of the dog is going to be some megalomaniacal assassin," it never comes to pass. Instead it is quieter and far more realistic. Her mother seems suspicious of the direction of her relationship with Bobby and she is also suspicious of her other daughter's (Olivia Thirlby) future plans and the whole family is still reeling from the death of a son.

Refreshingly, there are no improbable moments when one movie somehow seeps into the other. They are entirely separate. And the essential question posed at the start of the film - whether or not to have the child - is never really addressed overtly. Instead the two stories play out organically on their own.

The acting here is pretty top notch, most specifically from Gordon Leavitt and Thirlby (who is so consistently good that I'm beginning to suspect she could be plopped into a Uwe Boll film about a prom night massacre and still somehow seem believable even as she's slow dancing with the suspected murderer) in her much smaller role. Movie #1, when you stop and think about it, is madness, and so often in films of this sort you hear of actors who "ground" things and maybe you wonder what goes into "grounding" something and the definition, ladies and gentleman, can be found in this performance by Gordon Leavitt. If any human being was actually forced to face these circumstances and managed to keep his or her composure this is how they would behave. He thinks things through, maintains a brave face if only to keep Kate calm, and never seems to go all superhero. And in Movie #2 he maintains a brave face, too, if only to keep himself calm in the face of what feels like an even more crucial twist of fate.

Movie #1 is, I suppose, technically more "thrilling." But really, truly, is it as intense? Don't bad guys with guns and foot chases through alleys and bags of money and calling very mean people with "instructions" for a "drop" seem like a heavenly cakewalk compared to facing the fact that you and your significant other are going to have to raise a child?


Simon said...

Ignoring the gimmicky color schemes that I hated, I liked that they played out as two different movies. Seperately, they could've been awful and boring, but together, they kept each other interesting. Good review, anyway.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, they were both very much genre exercises that somehow exceeded the sum of their parts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicholas, I was writing about Gordon-Levitt and trying to figure out about this movie! I saw the trailer a while ago and found it intriguing, but never got around to it. Looks like this is a role for a real formidable actor like Joseph, but not sure I'm gonna like the story. Btw, Lynn Collins kinda remind me of Evangeline Lily somehow, I thought she was decent in her brief part in Wolverine.