On a Saturday after a crazy week, it’s wonderful to be surprised by a movie for which you have no expectations. I was delighted by Uncertainty, a joint directorial/writing accomplishment from David Siegel and Scott McGeehee. It consists of two parallel stories of a young couple (Lynn Collins and the wonderful Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to have somehow snatched some of Heath Ledger’s DNA). One, “Green,” is a pastoral family drama; “Yellow,” a Hitchcockian caper, straddles Chinatown and midtown and, with all its running, leaves you breathless.
The colors device is only a tiny bit forced; you are constantly reminded of which story you’re in by the art direction and costuming in a way that’s unnecessary, as the writing and acting is strong enough to immediately orient you (except for the opening set-up, which feels oddly stilted in light of what’s to come, so just get past it). What is lovely is the way in which “Yellow” lends “Green” a great deal of suspense. I suspect that I cared more about the family crisis because the more interesting and sporty life/death/chase crisis had me on edge. That takes some very clever writing, indeed – not in the self-conscious way, in the steering-me-through-a-minefield-with-grace way.
Technically, there is some pretty brilliant stuff going on here, and quietly. Siegel and McGeehee never once point to themselves to say, “Ain’t we cool?”; they’re too busy making a really terrific movie. Huge props to editor Paul Zucker, who splices the two stories with iciness and warmth in exactly the right measures, and DP Kathy Li, who shoots the city with the understanding of a native, which she isn’t. Once you know that Li shot Gus van Sant’s gorgeous Paranoid Park, which came out the same year as Milk and was exponentially better, it’s not a surprise; she is one hell of a cinematographer. There’s an extended sequence across rooftops that is an absolute delight to watch; it’s nice to see that, as radically and sadly as so much of downtown has changed over the decades, tenement rooftops still evoke lost Manhattan.
It’s probably most exciting to see someone embrace the taut pacing and Hobbesian outlook of Hitchcock in half their movie, and then juxtapose it with a more domestic drama to show how fraught and suspenseful a simple love story can be. Siegel and McGeehee have assembled a great team, and worked with some powerhouses, including She Who Can Do No Wrong, Tilda Swinton, in The Deep End. I hope they can keep making movies this good, and much as I wish great riches on them, I truly hope they don’t get all Hollywood and have to start making bullshit featuring asteroids and Actors Who Are Also Twitter Presences. Enjoy them before the rest of the world finds out.