Judge Daryl Loomis makes hard choices every day. When he needs some milk, does he take the Porsche or the Land Rover?
The choice is theirs.
We don't know the consequences of our choices before we make them, and we'll never know what would have happened had we made an alternate choice. We can second-guess ourselves and wonder what might have been, but our choices are unchangeable and forever. The writing and directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End) muse on this subject in Uncertainty, a film about one decision and two alternate realities.
Facts of the Case
On July 4, young lovers Bobby and Kate (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mysterious Skin and Lynn Collins, 50 First Dates) are standing on a bridge trying to decide what to do with their day. Bobby flips a coin and the lovers separate. When we see them together again, they have entered two alternating stories that trace back to whether the coin landed heads or tails. In the first, they find a dog while heading out to Brooklyn for a family gathering, where Kate must consider revealing to her parents that she's pregnant. In the second, they're in a cab going to Manhattan when they find a cell phone. In trying to find the owner, they get involved in web of intrigue and murder with some bad men who will do anything to gain access to the phone.
Heads or tails? Simple choices like this have complicated consequences in Undecided. McGehee and Siegel use a strange gimmick to spin an entertaining cross-up of a thriller with a family drama. The world diverges considerably based on the simple decision of where to go on a bright and sunny Independence Day morning. The director team intelligently weaves their two worlds together to get deep into the hearts of the two lead characters. Each story begins with the lovers finding something, a cell phone in one story and a dog in the second. These discoveries represent very different things, but they are instrumental in the plots that follow.
In the Manhattan story, the phone serves as the MacGuffin for the thriller, but it also gives us a window into the characters. Kate wants nothing to do with it; she wants to give it to the cabbie and get it out of their lives. She's not being cautious as much as smart; private things should remain private, but the phone is in Bobby's hand. Bobby doesn't choose the smart thing, he chooses the adventurous thing, and calls the numbers saved in the phone to find out it belongs to. The result of that choice takes them on the kind of adventure they never asked for and never would have wanted. By taking a right instead of a left they could have avoided all the danger and intrigue, but had they gone to Brooklyn instead, what would have happened?
A family drama, that's what. With the other option, they enter a world that is much less visceral, but much more emotional. The retrieval of the stray dog doesn't drive this story, but it is a talking point that gets us involved in a group of relationships that have long been established. Kate has what appears to be a beautiful family, full of love and support. There are no formal introductions to the characters, but their individual reactions to the strange dog in their house tell us what we need to know about the characters. This story is not terribly dramatic, and it is a slower, more character-driven counterpoint to the thriller angle.
Woven together, these stories make up an intriguing character study that reveals Bobby and Kate in contrasting situations. In the thriller, they are faced with life or death decisions that they must make on instinct. They deal with the unfamiliar; threats that could come from anywhere. Seeing the lovers under duress shows how far they'll go for the other's safety. In the drama, on the other hand, they stay more reserved, but there are still problems. Kate is pregnant and has avoided telling her family, but she can't hide it forever. Their decisions in this story are calculated instead of instinctual as they navigate family politics. This situation isn't physically threatening like the other, but is much more emotionally taxing. In combination, the stories paint a multi-sided portrait of Bobby and Kate's relationship that feels whole. Either story on its own would make sense, but they are far stronger together.
McGehee and Siegel don't immediately make their gimmick apparent. It's only as the stories start to parallel one another that it becomes clear. It would have been easy for the action story to tread on the drama, but they are nicely balanced so that each can comment on the other. Unusually, the gimmick actually helps inform plot and performance rather than getting in their way. The writing and the editing play a part in the success of Uncertainty, but it is largely thanks to the performances from Gordon-Levitt and Collins. They exhibit a great chemistry together, playing off of each other and working together to make both stories happen. McGehee and Siegel employed an odd scripting tactic here. They wrote great detail into the action for each scenario, but left the dialog virtually blank. They put it on the leads to feel the scene and speak the dialog that comes naturally to them, and they are excellent from start to finish. In combination with the editing, which puts the two stories together in a way that they can comment on each other; we have a very strong picture of the characters, their motivations, and the idea of how choice dictates our daily lives.
The DVD of Uncertainty from MPI is technically solid and features informative, though scant few, extras. The film doesn't feature the most dynamic cinematography, but the video image is very sharp with accurate colors and skin tones. Shot on video, the film carries a flat feeling overall, but the transfer is good enough that it never looks too cheap. The surround mix is equally solid, with clear dialog, heavy use of the rear channels, and excellent separation in all speakers. The list of special features is short but sweet. We start off with some audition footage featuring our two stars. Because the script was free of dialog, they were forced to improvise; you can see right away the chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Collins, which translates so well in the final product. The most interesting extra is the script to scene comparison, which shows us a few pages from various scenes, then gives us the corresponding moments from the film. It lends much understanding of how the film was written, as well as the important little things that the actors added to the film. We finish out with some trailers for the film and a still gallery, but nothing too exciting there.
Uncertainty may feel gimmicky at times, but it is nonetheless is a well made and ultimately satisfying film. The dual stories offset each other nicely and serve to give us a clear picture of this relationship while staying interesting and entertaining throughout.
While I wonder what would happen if I decided otherwise, Uncertainty
is not guilty.
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