Sundance Review: Chronic Town
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2008
Chronic Town is an interesting indie film about the isolated and crazed life of one individual in Alaska. I was honestly surprised by how great this was especially for first time director Tom Hines. Everything about Chronic Town is incredibly solid: the acting, the directing, the script and dialogue, the story, but if only Hines would have hired an actual cinematographer, it wouldn't have looked like a film made on my parent's video camera.
Set in freezing cold Fairbanks, Alaska, Chronic Town is about a chain-smoking, alcoholic cab driver named Truman (JR Bourne) who is dumped by his girlfriend while driving her home home. His response is to get wasted with double vodkas and trip acid, but he ends up with a bad trip and nearly kills himself. As he recovers in the hospital, Truman is put into a psychological therapy group for "loonies" where he meets a stripper and befriends an elderly lady at a retirement home. Here's where the marijuana comes in. Truman's elderly friend's son grows the best weed in Fairbanks and in freezing cold and boring Alaska, there's nothing better to do than smoke grass. What Chronic Town is really about is that dark period in time where Truman's life changes forever.
JR Bourne as Truman is an inspired casting choice and absolutely genius, which is amazing considering this is a film from a first-time director and I wouldn't typically expect anyone great in this. But like Paulo Costanzo in Everything's Gone Green, JR's performance is what really stands out and actually helps this film breathe so deeply. It's such an honest exploration and JR encompasses that character perfectly. Don't be fooled, this isn't a quaint drama about life, it's a dark and vicious film about the more brutal side of humanity. And if it weren't for the awful cinematography, this would be higher on my scale for an otherwise great script and great cast.
I had the chance to see this film and I think it is beautiful visually. After reading your review, I felt I needed to respond. While I agree with your views on the story and acting, I simply cannot agree with your words against the cinematography. I believe the cinematographer tells the story in a subtle, subconscious way and is one of the highlights of the film. I think he took big risks and they paid off.
Deborah on Feb 10, 2008
I totally agree with Deborah. I thought Alex Billington was a reputable film critic, but he clearly loses credibility with this review. The cinematography on Chronic Town is absolutely stunning and genius. As a producer, there are very few times I see cinematography with an emotional arc like this one. Chronic Town is a mediocre film and what makes it great is the cinematography. I really don't understand what Alex was thinking and I think it's time for him to go to film school.
Johnathan on Feb 21, 2008
This is a bunch of bs. After some googling, I found out that Alex is a "wannabe" critic. It looks like he mixed up the screenings. I saw the movie at Sundance and thought it sucked. It was one of the most boring films I've seen. It wasn't until gunfire and a badly placed mailbox that there was any umph to the movie. The only thing that was interesting at all to me was the photography. If it wasn't for that, I would have slept through the whole thing. The actors didn't seem to have any direction ( except for some of the supporting roles) and the editing had no style and rythym. I've been in this business long enough to know that there is something a little fishy to this review. For my money, all the stars go to the photography.
steven k. on Mar 2, 2008
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