Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Synchronic is a tightly-scripted time travel film that wastes not a single moment. It's exciting and unexpected, capturing time through a reflective and thematically rich perspective. Anthony Mackie gives the single best performance of his career in what is easily one of the best films of 2020.
Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (known as Moorhead & Benson) drop yet another sci-fi mind-bender with the time-traveling indie film Synchronic, featuring Anthony Mackie (Avengers: End Game) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Grey).
Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are New Orleans paramedics responding to an alarming rate of mysterious calls that involve poisons, deaths and over-doses with unique factors. At one scene, they found a medieval sword, while at the other, a victim was burned alive without a trace of ignition. What seems to be present at all of these locations is Synchronic, a mysterious new legal drug.
Despite these weird abnormalities, both Steve and Dennis continue to grind away, in hopes of cleaning up the streets by end of shift. In their free time, the two are best friends with their own rocky and stubborn interactions. Steve is a loner, spending most of his free time with Dennis and his family. He recently found out that he’s terminally ill, yet has chosen not to tell Dennis out of some weird sense of becoming a burden and having to rely on someone other than himself to make his decisions.
Dennis is expecting another baby with a wife that he continuously complains about and an older daughter that wants nothing to do with her parents.
Both men represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of being grateful and appreciative of the lives they live, which sets the stage for a low-key time travel flick that’s more focused on its human interactions than it is world-building or time-altering.
Justin Benson holds the sole writing credit, while he and his frequent collaborator Aaron Moorhead share co-directing duties and together they make Moorhead & Benson, which is a duo that I was completely unaware of until seeing this film, yet they hold several other directing credits under their belts, including The Endless, Resolution and Spring.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have never heard of either of these guys and watching Synchronic sent shockwaves up into my brain, like the first time I experienced a film from Darren Aronofsky.
Synchronic is a film that benefits heavily from their directing style, which is a pleasing cross between style and substance. Their depiction of time travel is unique in its visual presentation, making clever use of editing tricks and CGI to create a world that looks and feels as impressive as the big budget sci-fi flicks, but was likely made for a fraction of the cost.
The substance piece goes back to the writing and their characters, which are incredibly human and nuanced. Benson’s ability to incorporate such subtle moments into these characters in a way that brings them to life and adds dimension makes for defining moments that somehow come across as casual. With Benson, the fate of the world can be discussed casually over beers at the bar, yet you’re fully on board, because it transfers from page to screen with such clarity and confidence.
A big part of that comes from star Anthony Mackie and to a lesser extent, but also impressive degree, Jamie Dornan. Both men turn in quieter, more meaningful performances in this film that almost feel like a cleanse from their past franchise commitments.
As far as I am concerned, Mackie has always been a star (see his entertaining turn in Pain & Gain) and I have yet to see him prove me wrong. But his work in the Marvel movies is definitely second-fiddle. Luckily for us, Synchronic allows him to fully shine, giving us a character that’s unpredictable and funny, yet tragic and spiritual. His transformation is the key to this film’s success and Mackie struggles not one bit delivering a performance that’s easily his best so far.
Jamie Dornan is more subdued here, taking the backseat for a portion of the film that is devoted to Mackie and his character’s growth. That being said, Dornan’s Dennis is still a very important aspect of this film. He counteracts Mackie’s heroism with a dash of cynicism that provides a healthy balance for the film.
The synth-infused score blended with Moorhead & Benson‘s captivating eyes give Synchronic a particular look that’s always playing with contrast. The shots showing Steve and Dennis at work are dark, rainy and almost lifeless by design, yet the time-traveling sequences are bright, colorful and full of this sense of exploration and mystery that feels barely scratched at.
Watching this film kick into high gear is a one of the best cinematic experiences of 2020 and certainly going to be a head-turner for those (like me) that had no idea what to expect from a pair of directors that came out of nowhere.
Their ability to balance the heavy elements and responsibilities that come with time travel in a way that feels dare I say light and efficient is what makes Synchronic such a memorable movie. It’s just as thoughtful and “smart” as Tenet, yet it carries none of the baggage and is constantly dropping your jaw to the floor in its ability to capture such visual beauty and mind-bending sci-fi in a way that never feels confusing or like it requires an instruction manual to fully comprehend. It creates its “rules” in a way that gives the film the best chance of drawing you in and keeping you intrigued.
Synchronic is exciting and daring, mixing a distinct visual look with a story that’s fulfilling, yet compact, without ever sacrificing emotion or its effectiveness. Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan give their best performances yet, while directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have quickly become two of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood that I cannot wait to see more of.