Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
January 2016


Bad romance

Synchronicity is a time-travel drama that doesn't care about any of its most interesting ideas

Magnet Releasing
Director: Jacob Gentry
Screenplay: Jacob Gentry and Alex Orr
Starring: Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress and Michael Ironside
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

How strange for a film to dive into two such distinct genres, while not particularly caring about either one. Not a deal-breaker, necessarily. Just ... an inauspicious origin.

Synchronicity is a time-travel movie that shows increasingly little regard for its scientific ideas as it goes along, not to mention an extremely narrow use of its core concept. Synchronicity is also a film noir, but one without a dark side, without dirt and grime, without the very attitude that makes noir what it is.

There's nothing wrong with violating the norms of a genre, but what director/co-writer Jacob Gentry does here is sand down all its edges, and with no discernible reward. He alters the primary function of the movie's lone female character from femme fatale to a more ordinary love interest, in doing so shifting the whole story away from its more primal instincts and into the realm of fairy tale. A fairy tale with Blade Runner lighting, but a fairy tale all the same. Which is to say that Gentry operates under the mistaken belief that the plot-driven dalliance between scientist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) and corporate mole Abby (Brianne Davis) is actually a Great Romance. It isn't - and moreover, even its attempt to be so is mishandled, both in the way Gentry conceives the scenes between them, and in their performances.

I must admit I was rather puzzled when it finally dawned on me that, yes, this movie had in fact decided to focus all of its energy on Jim's virtuous romantic yearnings. In the first place, it requires us to accept that he would willingly abandon the massive scientific breakthrough (a time machine) that the film makes clear he has spent years of his life developing, and that he's so obsessed with that he refuses to sleep for days on end, always believing he's on the cusp of a breakthrough. But more importantly, and more practically, the scenes between him and Abby always play as transactional, rarely (if ever) emotional. I'm not sure if I should be arguing about "believability," exactly, but even on the film's own established terms, I don't buy it.

We first see Abby as a pair of legs in the back of a limousine - not a bad intro for a femme fatale - and a few scenes later we meet her in earnest. After his latest attempt to make his time-traveling portal work, Jimruns into her outside his building, in a scene that we'll later see multiple times from different angles and points of entry, a result of Jim's continuing temporal experimentation. We find out eventually that Abby works for Jim's ruthless corporate benefactor, the superbly named Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside), a fact that complicates both Jim's work and his burgeoning feelings of puppy love.

Davis' performance hits the right beats for one version of this character - sexy and mysterious, with hints of treachery, as if she always knows something we (and Jim) do not - but not for the one that Synchronicity ultimately requires. When she and Jim aren't arguing over matters of plot, Abby's manner consists mostly of flirtatious smirking. Gentry stages their scenes as winking moments between them - the kinds of scenes you shoot to emphasize physical chemistry, not courtship. It never gets beyond the casually lustful; there's never any true human connection underneath it all. And yet that's where the film curiously decides to go.

Though it's true that McKnight's limitations as an actor - specifically as a leading man, and even more specifically as a romantic lead - are significant (to put it kindly), I'm not sure if I can lay too much of the blame on the performances, because the whole arc of the central relationship seems miscalculated and mis-directed. That Gentry believes this premise and these characters are best served as vehicles for a tepid romance is not only an inexplicability, but seems to go against the film's own noirish behavior. A ubiquitous helicopter spotlight penetrates seemingly every interaction between Jim and Abby, perpetually suggesting a world (and, specifically, a relationship) under surveillance. Or a watchful eye of some kind anyway.

Every filmmaking gesture hints at something eerier, more potent, more sinister than where we eventually land. The film's more tender intentions aren't an interesting optimistic twist, but a copout. This is a movie with such contempt for its core time-travel conceit - and its supporting cast - that early on it establishes one fatal oddity about a supporting character that is only, and can only be, a cheap device to be deployed when the story needs a cheap out. When it inevitably comes, this quirk fulfills its only purpose, and gives the movie the opportunity to disregard any actual interest in science or time-travel it had previously pretended to have.

In fairness to Gentry, there are some nice touches that don't just get around the film's low budget, but resourcefully take advantage of it. He and cinematographer Eric Madisson use existing locations and buildings, but with camera angles, lighting choices and context clues that make them appear and feel futuristic. Alienating. But it's all ultimately set dressing, because this is not a future Synchronicity has any real interest in exploring. Its ambitions are simply too benign.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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