Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Uncertainty returns the filmmaking team to the dualities of their 1993 debut feature Suture, a science-fiction oddity about the reunion between two brothers who are told they look similar, even though one is black and the other is white. McGehee and Siegel have remained icy clinicians, given to arms-length deconstructions like the thriller The Deep End or the runaway mysticism of Bee Season. Uncertainty finds them indulging their most academic instincts, fiddling with a bifurcated structure without bothering to flesh out their thin ideas about choices made and deferred, and the hand of destiny. They’re like architects of a beautiful home that’s completely uninhabitable.
Uncertainty opens on the Brooklyn Bridge, where attractive young lovers Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins flip a coin over how to spend their Fourth Of July—and, in a larger sense, their future together. From there, the film splits Blind Chance/Sliding Doors-style into vastly divergent alternate realities. In Manhattan, Gordon-Levitt and Collins get mixed up with the criminal element when they find a smartphone in the back of a cab and try to return this surprisingly coveted item to its owner. A few hours later, they’re embroiled in a $500,000 blackmail scheme and chased around the city by murderous thugs. On the Brooklyn side, meanwhile, the couple visits Collins’ home for a cookout, and she and Gordon-Levitt negotiate tricky familial conflicts while hiding their own big secret.
As hard as McGehee and Siegel work to balance both sides of the equation—and occasionally create elegant rhymes between them—the couple’s misadventures in Manhattan are far more compelling than the wan drama in Brooklyn. And that isn’t saying much: In any other context, having Gordon-Levitt and Collins dashing through fire escapes and Internet cafés wouldn’t pass muster as network-thriller material, but in contrast to the listless amble of their afternoon in Brooklyn, it’s pulse-pounding stuff. The leads are immensely appealing, but the sum of their experiences equals nothing more profound than two earnest people wrestling with a tough decision. Their uncertainty is common, and nothing a by-the-numbers blackmail plot can clear up.