(Scott McGehee & David Siegel, 2009)
Starting with an attractive young couple discussing an important decision they must make while standing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge on July 4th, Uncertainty seems rather too high-concept for it's own good.
The couple (Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lynn Collins) toss a coin to decide whether to spend their day in Manhattan or Brooklyn, then each runs to a different end of the bridge, where they are reunited with one another and two different versions of the same couple enjoy two different stories.
Those stories are colour-coded green and yellow in title cards and by the clothing the characters wear. One is a paranoid chase thriller, kicked off by the phone they discover in the back of a cab, leading gunmen and threatening strangers to track them across Chinatown and Manhattan. The other is a family drama, as they return to the Brooklyn home of the girls parents for a 4th of July dinner, and they struggle with the secret they are keeping - her pregnancy.
It plays more smoothly and easily than it sounds, even if it does take perhaps 45 minutes before the film has fallen into a nice rhythm, cutting back and forth naturally between the twin stories and playing them off each other for resonances and echoes. The thriller story is necessarily silly but it's momentum is so relentless that that is easy to ignore, and, shot with handheld cameras in New York in Summer, it is a great film of that city, dancing across rooftops and through parking garages and sidestreets, casually capturing the way the subway feels and the streets bustle in a way many films miss entirely.
The family drama is more subtle, more interesting and perhaps a better fit for these directors, whose previous work has generally leaned more towards arthouse than multiplex. The history and complex relationships in the family are patiently sketched in, naturalistically, and through dialogue and nuance - informed by a few details revealed in the other story - and a plotline about a stray dog somewhat leadenly emphasises the lead couples' issues with sudden parenthood. The leads are both good; portraying a realistically normal young couple in love but unsure of their future, they have chemistry and feel right together, and the improvised dialogue never feels improvised, instead seeming tentative and true to life.
In the thriller story they are in over their heads and react with desperation and fear but also ingenuity, until they realise how overmatched they are.
The drama is more sensitive to the currents in their relationship, the glances and facial expressions of two people intent upon the feelings of one another. The two stories intersect - sort of - as they watch fireworks over the city in both realities and later sleep together. Each story is left partially unresolved, awaiting a decision - in a film about choice, this is either very clever or extremely frustrating.
It is, doubtless, an odd film. Arty in some ways, accessible in others, it never quite works despite the appeal of the cast and Rain Li's pin-sharp cinematography. Strangely, for a film so determinedly split in its personality, you get the feeling it never quite knows exactly what it wants to be in either personality.