KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews Uncertainty
Related Story: Uncertainty and Rashomon
KPBS-FM Radio Film Review: “Uncertainty”
By Beth Accomando
Air Date: December 17, 2009
The new film “Uncertainty” ponders two different fates for its characters. And KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando ponders two different movie choices for your weekend.
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(Tag:) “Uncertainty” opens tomorrow at the Reading [pronounced REDDING] Gaslamp Theaters and “Rashomon” opens tomorrow at Landmark’s Ken Cinema.
“Uncertainty” opens with a young couple in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s the Fourth of July and they don’t know what to do.
Kate: I’m afraid of deciding.
Bobby: I’m not afraid of either scenario. I just want this to be something we’re doing not something we’re not doing.
Kate: What does this mean?
Bobby: It means whatever we decide.
So they flip a coin to decide their fate. Bobby heads toward Brooklyn and Kate goes off to Manhattan. But the conceit of the film is that they do not go off to separate, solitary fates. Instead, the film splits in two to present the couples’ possible fates on opposite sides of the East River. So in Manhattan, one set of Bobby and Kate characters find a cell phone left behind in a cab and end up involved in a blackmail scam.
CLIP Kate: We have an offer for the phone, $500,000 will you match? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Brooklyn, another version of the couple spends the day with Kate’s family, and awkwardly hiding the fact that Kate is now pregnant.
CLIP Kate: I just feel like I’m lying to everyone who loves me.
Bobby: I can see that. I mean it is kind of sneaky.
Kate: You calling me sneaky?
Bobby: No. Even if we knew what we were doing we might not talk about it to other people.
Filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel serve up two possible fates but never clue us in as to why they are doing it. In both halves of the story the couples make and avoid decisions in a way that affect their lives. But the parallel universes that “Uncertainty” creates are not like those in the film “Sliding Doors” where catching a train or not results in two very different potential outcomes for the main character.
In splitting the story, the film also divides into two different genre films. In Brooklyn we have a family drama. In Manhattan it’s a low-key thriller.
But the filmmakers don’t contrast the two genres in an interesting way. If you remain at all engaged in the film it’s because of the appealing performances of Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lynn Collins.
The directors do deliver some good individual scenes but you keep waiting for it to all add up, for the two plot strands to somehow interact or play off each other in a satisfying manner but they never do.
“Uncertainty” feels a lot like a film school experiment done more to see what the technical and structural challenges are rather than because the filmmakers have something specific to say. In the end we’re left with two sets of characters, each going their own way with no resolution to the split. It’s like a parallel dimension opens up and never closes.
CLIP Movie theater
Ironically, though, “Uncertainty” has a scene in a movie theater where the characters watch an Akira Kurosawa film. Now Kurosawa is a filmmaker who knew what to do with contrasting perspectives and storylines. His classic film “Rashomon” concerns a crime and four versions of the truth. And as fate would have it, a re-mastered version of “Rashomon” opens this week to provide filmgoers with an alternative choice.
Described in the trailer as the film that introduced Japanese cinema to the world, “Rashomon” has lost none of its power or luster in the more than four passing decades. Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa’s favorite leading man, rivets us with his performance as the bandit who rapes a young bride and then kills her husband – or does he? Mifune offers quicksilver mood changes, and impressive charisma.
So if you’re looking for a movie this weekend, I recommend going for an old classic rather than gambling on the uncertainty of something new.
For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.