June 24, 2008

Chaos Theory


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Somebody at Warner Brothers goofed. This is no surprise, as the studio has long (perhaps since the 30s and 40s) been the worst when it comes to knowing or caring how to market a "small" movie. The goof here begins with the discarded theatrical release of Chaos Theory and continues through that of the video. If ever a film ought to have been pushed for Father's Day, it's this one. Instead it made its DVD debut the week after? And with no mention of Dad, parenting, paternity, love, marriage or the father/daughter bond? One has to wonder, after watching this surprising movie, whether anyone at Warners bothered to view it before they dumped it, or if they possess a single clue about movie marketing.

Three years back, director Marcos Siega (with writer Skander Halim) gave us one of the more interesting and quirky films about high school, Pretty Persuasion. Far from perfect (so is Chaos Theory) it was nonetheless though-provoking and intelligent and gave Evan Rachel Wood a breakout role, of which she made the most. With his new film, Siega, who continues to work mostly in television, has again produced an under-the-radar movie that is very much worth seeing, with a cleverly constructed screenplay by Daniel Taplitz, focusing on a hyper-organized man who, due to tiny change in schedule, suddenly becomes very un-organized.

Among the themes that Taplitz mines (he was also responsible for the overlooked Breakin' All the Rules, in which Jamie Foxx and Gabrielle Union seemed like they might become a new Cary Grant/Kate Hepburn) is how sudden change and the appearance of betrayal can wreak havoc on relatively "normal" people. One of the typical problems with stories such as this is that, either the characters' behavior doesn't seem real enough, given the situation they find themselves in, or the situation seems far too contrived to fit the people involved. Taplitz constructs his tale well enough (and sets the meat of it twenty years earlier) so that viewers can easily believe what is happening--and laugh with it, be moved by it and, perhaps most important, relate it to their lives as parents and partners.

As a director, Siega doesn't push; even his finale, which so easily could have crossed the line into schmaltz, is instead handled with quiet precision and wonderful tact. An ace cast also helps the filmmakers put their story across. Emily Mortimer makes a sweet, angry, caring wife/mom; Stuart Townsend gives the "best friend" role a spin of sadness that renders his character more interesting that the usual over-sexed jerk we’ve seen time and again; and between them Matreya Fedor and Elizabeth Harnois bring the daughter to sweet life as, respectively, the child and the young woman. And Ryan Reynolds is quite good in the lead. I can't determine whether this actor is yet important or powerful enough to choose his roles, or if the roles (read: director, writers, or maybe the producers) are choosing him. Whatever: his last four films (Smokin' Aces, The Nines, Definitely Maybe and this one) have shown to him to such excellent advantage that I hope he continues on this road: interspersing mainstream "biggies" or schlock (Blade: Trinity, Amityville Horror and the upcoming X-Men: Origins) with smaller films, while continuing to grow as an actor.

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Posted by cphillips at June 24, 2008 12:36 PM
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