Synchronic is a science-fiction thriller starring Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hurt Locker, Detroit) and Jaime Dornan (The Fifty Shades Trilogy, Marie Antoinette, Robin Hood), directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Resolution, Spring, The Endless).
The main characters, Dennis (Dornan) and Steve (Mackie), are paramedics who work the late shift. The duo’s lives are then turned upside down by a new designer drug, the titular Synchronic. Their jobs as EMT’s provides the first half of the film with a fantastic way to spend time exploring the world, Steve and Dennis’ relationship, and the effects of the mysterious drug, without sacrificing pacing or energy.
Synchronic: The Drug Of Time
The story builds towards a head as different conflicts continue to arise. Dennis’ daughter Brianna disappears after using the drug, his marriage begins to fall apart, and his bachelor best friend Steve discovers that he has brain cancer, cancer which directly affects his pineal gland.
Surprise, surprise. Synchronic affects the pineal gland and subsequently the manner in which we experience time. Young people, whose pineal gland hasn’t calcified, and also Steve, whose condition conveniently kept his gland youthful, are able to travel through time with the use of the drug. The issue is the return to the present. Why brain cancer would have this effect on Steve is unclear, but this eyebrow raising plot point is largely inconsequential.
Steve was already drinking heavily and abusing prescription pills before his diagnosis, and his resentment for the world around him only grew after learning of his condition. He’s cold to Dennis, cruel to strangers, and generally acts like a dick. Anthony Mackie plays the hardboiled asshole with finesse, something that surprised me, a fan whose greatest exposure to Mackie is through his role as The Falcon in the MCU. His reckless abandon for his own health and safety is tragic, yet understandable, and it pushes the story in just the right direction at a critical juncture.
Anthony Mackie Shines Bright
While Mackie’s performance was nearly pitch perfect, I cannot say the same for Jaime Dornan. Dennis is a jerk who doesn’t appreciate his family, his job, or his friend. He’s not charming, funny, or likable. Whether this is more a byproduct of Benson’s writing, or Dornan’s acting is a matter of personal opinion, but it’s not a good look for either of them. Perhaps there’s an audience for flat, uninteresting characters undergoing a self-imposed midlife crisis, but it’s not with me.
Now, even if Dornan’s Dennis had left a lasting positive impact, that wouldn’t have turned this into the perfect science fiction thriller. There are minor issues with the editing, overly expository lines of dialogue, and the film can struggle with proper suspension of disbelief. Mackie’s role as a man trying to do his best with a life that is rapidly spinning out of control ultimately outshines the flaws within Synchronic, but that doesn’t mean those flaws aren’t worth addressing.
The directing and visual effects were also surprisingly strong, with very rare exceptions. Practical effects, simple yet grandiose historic set-pieces, and outstanding costume work made Synchronic a visual feast. There are a few characters who “overdose” on the designer drug, and their corpses are uniquely grotesque, though this really isn’t a horror movie per se. One of my favorite aspects of this film was the way that the directors moved Steve through time, as it provided a fascinating contrast to the way Synchronic moved him.
Synchronic succeeds as a powerful character tragedy, and a gripping thriller, but it fails as a family drama. The core interpersonal dynamics revolve around Steve, Dennis, and Dennis’ wife and daughter. These relationships failed to move me in any serious way, and that’s really the biggest issue the movie has. The concept was fresh, the execution was generally sound, but unfortunately, the only character with a beating heart is Steve. Anthony Mackie fans will likely enjoy Synchronic, but those looking for a consistently strong cast of characters will be disappointed.
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