Dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel. US. 2008. 101 mins
Regular collaborators McGehee and Siegel have hit what is called in baseball a double-a compliment, that—with Uncertainty. In the past, their provocative films have veered toward the academic, as with the study of amnesia in the modern Cain-and-Abel tale Suture (1993), and the revisionist generic conceit of The Deep End (2001).
Two alternative, and alternating, stories involving a striking young couple, which move back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan, fly by rapidly, their execution aided by Christopher Doyle protege Rain Li’s exquisite handheld camerawork and Paul Zucker’s accomplished editing. Uncertainty could get a sizable niche audience that has evaded McGehee and Siegel in their earlier collaborations.
The two excellent leads, who improvised their dialogue with the directors, are key to carrying the film. Bobby Thompson (Gordon-Levitt) is a Canadian-born musician trying to make his way in New York City. His girlfriend of 10 months, Kate Montero (Lynn Collins), is a Brooklyn-reared Latina and dancer on Broadway who is 11 weeks pregnant. The film begins (on July 4) and ends (on July 5) with their discussing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge what to do about the unexpected situation. When Bobby flips a coin, and the two run in opposite directions, she toward Brooklyn, he to Manhattan, one fears another exercise in formalism for formalism’s sake.
That is not at all the case. Each, impossibly, meets the other on either side of the bridge, and two very different adventures in urban life begin-and the viewer takes a leap of faith and goes with them. In Brooklyn, they find a stray dog on the highway and take him in, but still attempt to find its owner.
Both the warmth and strains of Kate’s family issues ground the film, and provide an important, more languorously played out counterpoint to their manic adventures on the Manhattan side. There they find not an animal, but a cell phone in the back of a taxi. Bobby’s calls to the man he assumes to be the owner lead to a dangerous cat-and-mouse game of frantic threats and chases, mostly through Chinatown.
It does take a leap of faith to accept that these two bright, talented characters would decide to ‘sell’ the phone back to the man who lost it after they discover he is a criminal. Yet once one has gotten past that questionable choice, especially given her pregnancy, the rapid momentum just keeps things going.
The talented Gordon-Levitt and Collins play variants of the same characters, depending on which side of the bridge they are on. Uncertainty is a low-budget endeavor-they shot much of it in HD inconspicuously, as cars and pedestrians passed by-but the stretch is a dream role for most actors, surely worth their time and energy. They are a perfect fit for McGehee and Siegel’s exquisite mise-en-scene.