Chronic delivers powerful performances but lacks genuine tension — a film review

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Mortality will get us all in the end. However, the journey there is long and for some arduous. In Chronic, we get a portrayal of those who seem to be struggling to stay alive. It is an unflinching look at the deterioration of people and what it means to be entirely under the care of someone else. In this case, the care comes from someone outside of one’s family. Although the film packs strong performances and a compelling story with a shocking ending, Chronic falls short of providing an overall strong film.

In Chronic we meet an at-home nurse who specializes in palliative care. David played brilliantly by Tim Roth, is first introduced on camera as he is bathing a patient, a female body that is clearly withering away and cannot even stand by herself. It is a sobering image that puts a focus into the daily heaviness that David deals with. He’s a character that does not strike us as a kind person but more of a meticulous caretaker. The shower is an intimate moment, and for David the lines between intimacy and work are blurred.

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The initial impression we get from David is not particularly positive. He suggests he has real feelings for his patients and certainly gets too close for comfort to some of them. Interspersed with those graphic shots of care he gives to end-of-life patients, David is also constantly jogging on a treadmill or outdoors and is also seen actively stalking a young woman on Facebook. He also takes care of a male patient that asks him to play some porn for him, and he does. David’s soft-spoken demeanor and the lack of sentimentality with which he approaches his patients make him a bit of a creepy character.

Chronic has many quiet moments during long takes that, although, could lead the audience to reflection about these blurred lines between life and death, end up instead feeling like long gaps in action. The built-up tension is not enough to carry the film forward and provide the necessary depth to this important subject. For instance, when one of his patients needs him to drive her to the hospital, she also seems to want a bit of privacy. At the waiting room she directs him “we don’t have to talk.” She is uncomfortable with the sudden closeness that a caretaker has; one that she has just met. But although this is a tense moment in the relationship, the film feels slow and slacks by not maintaining that heightened sense of alert that is delivered through the performances.

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Mexican writer-director Michel Franco, of After Lucia (Film Review: ‘After Lucia’ holds unflinching lens to bullying), certainly delivers some powerful scenes and deals with loss on many different levels. However, this film does not carry the same punch that his former film delivered. Although he still gravitates toward a difficult subject, in Chronic there seems to be a moral judgment about end-of-life decisions, albeit in a very unsentimental way.

The film feels slow, although the intention perhaps was for it to build to a shocking finale. That last element is present, without perhaps the steady atmospheric build-up he was able to accomplish in After Lucia. The ending is open-ended, and even though the film is not strong through its entirety, it is a film that will make you think and certainly start up conversations. Couple with strong performances Chronic may be enough for some.

Ana Morgenstern

Chronic runs 93 minutes and is rated R. The film opened nationwide on Sept. 23.  It opens in our South Florida area on Oct. 7 at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. Chronic has its Florida premiere at the Miami Film Festival, earlier this year. Monument Releasing provided all images in this post and a screener link for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2016 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

 

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