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New Release Review - CHRONIC

A hospice nurse cares for terminally ill patients while attempting to reconnect with his daughter.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Michel Franco

Starring: Tim Roth, Robin Bartlett, Rachel Pickup, Bitsie Tulloch, Maribeth Monroe, Michael Cristofer



In recent interviews Tim Roth has freely admitted to taking roles purely for the money, but with Mexican director Michel Franco's Chronic, the appeal was certainly beyond the financial. Roth gives a career best performance in a film that's enamoured of him.



Tim Roth has had a career of peaks and troughs. He burst onto the scene in the UK in the early 1980s, working with such British cinema legends as Alan Clarke (Made in Britain), Mike Leigh (Meantime) and Stephen Frears (The Hit) before quietly disappearing into TV obscurity. A decade later his career was revived by a new wave of US indie filmmakers, led by Tarantino, making Roth one of the key acting figures of '90s cinema. The 21st century hasn't been so kind to the actor, with roles in turkeys like Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, Grace of Monaco and the FIFA love-fest United Passions. In recent interviews Roth has freely admitted to taking roles purely for the money, and who can blame him? But with Mexican director Michel Franco's Chronic, the appeal was certainly beyond the financial.
Here Roth plays David, a hospice nurse whose professional life consists of him spending his days and nights with terminally ill patients, often up to the time of their passing. The film is broken, to a degree, into three vignettes, in which we see David caring for three distinct patients. The first is Sarah (Rachel Pickup), a woman so frail her body resembles that of a concentration camp prisoner. When we first see David tend to her, bathing her fragile body, we could be mistaken for believing her to be his wife rather than patient. The few muscles she can still move are in her face, and their contortions suggest an intimate bond with her carer. 
Next up David is assigned to stroke victim John, an aging retired architect. Grumpy at first, John grows fond of David, who takes an interest in architecture, even pretending to be John's brother in order to pay a visit to a domestic home he once designed. Finally it's the turn of Marta (Robin Bartlett), a melancholy woman doing her best to remain dignified while battling cancer.
The film suggests David lives vicariously through his patients, almost to a creepy degree. While buying books on architecture, he lets the cashier believe that he himself is an architect. In a bar, he tells a newly wed couple that he once had a wife named Sarah, who passed away. It's only when he befriends Marta, who is something of a blank canvas, that he begins to explore his own past life, reconnecting with the daughter he hadn't seen since the breakup of his marriage, which was prompted by a key incident I won't divulge here.
Roth gives a career best performance in a film that's enamoured of him. Franco shoots in long static takes, practically one per scene, which paradoxically creates an intimacy between the viewers and David and his patients while keeping us at arm's length. The more we learn of David's character, the more our empathy grows, rendering the film's somewhat ambiguous final shot/scene a shocking and powerful punch to the gut. 
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