Uncertainty (2008) dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lynn Collins, Assumpta Serna, Olivia Thirlby
“Uncertainty” plays some tricks on the audience and tells two stories through the same characters at the same time. Scott McGehee and David Siegel borrow their concept from Peter Howitt’s “Sliding Doors” with Gwenyth Paltrow. One choice made by a young New York couple results in two completely course of events which follows. Two strong performances anchor this clever film about randomness, fate, and individual responsibility.
The opening scene shows Bobby (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins) standing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge discussing a choice to make. We’re never sure what choice it is, until Bobby flips a coin to make a decision. Suddenly they run off in separate directions with haste – thus jump starting this intriguing twister. The couple meet back up after the sprint, except we get to see two separate courses of action - like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure'. Plot #1 has the couple finding a lost blackberry in a cab. Plot #2 has the couple finding a stray dog on the street.
In Plot #1 (defined to us by the couple’s matching yellow outfits) becomes a thriller as the Bobby and Kate discover the cell phone contains vital information wanted by a group of warring New York gangsters. When the couple is offered a reward of $500,000 for the phone, they find themselves involved in a taut cat-and-mouse life-threatening chase across the city. Plot #2 becomes a relationship drama as the couple visit Kate’s family and discuss their dilemma about her unwanted pregnancy.
We essentially get two movies in one. The thriller is thought out very carefully. The actions of Bobby and Kate are played with noir-like plotting. They are ordinary people caught in a web of extraordinary and dangerous behaviour. The filmmakers are smart enough to keep the couple talking and questioning the minute details of their actions. Inevitably with this type of story the audience is forced to put themselves in the characters’ shoes and ask ‘what would I do in this situation?’ With the exception of a few small plot holes McGehee and Siegel keep it smart, logical and unpredictable.
Meanwhile all the character development is contained in plot #2, a significantly less interesting series of scenes. The majority of the action takes place through dialogue at Kate’s family BBQ. Overt conflict is kept to a minimum which results in some slogging, but Levitt and Collins make such a likeable couple it remains watchable. The central dilemma in this plot is Kate/Bobby’s choice of whether to keep the baby or not. But seeing that the couple are grounded individuals clearly in love, to me the choice is a no-brainer.
What’s missing are the connectors between the two plots. The characters’ choices and actions are completely autonomous to each other they might as well be two sets of characters played by the same actors. McGehee and Siegel aren’t absolutely clear about the rules of their alternative universe concept either. Somehow they wind up wearing different clothes after the initial sprint-off the bridge. Why they decide to flip a coin and run away from each other is never answered. As well, going by the filmmaker’s logic of their dual lives Kate should be pregnant in Plot #1, but it’s never referenced. Perhaps this is where the title of the film comes in, a level of ‘uncertainty’ is meant to exist in the audience’s minds as to how the subplots are related.
The finale brings the two Bobby/Lynns together in the same place, unfortunately without the ‘eureka’ moment that makes everything clear and complete. Uncertainty remains even after the end credits. In this case, a little bit of certainty could have made this good film into a great film. Too bad. Enjoy.