10 October 2009

Movie Review: Franklyn


2008, 98mins, R
Director: Gerald McMorrow
Writer: Gerald McMorrow
Cast includes: Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, Bernard Hill, Richard Coyle, Stephen Walters
Release Date: 2009 (specific date unconfirmed)

“Franklyn” is a fiercely odd cinematic commodity, drawn from the mind of debut director Gerald McMorrow the film is a head scratching amalgamation of fantasy and drama with religion, art and mortality peppered alongside for good measure. Fans of true originality and unbridled creative drive should find much to like about “Franklyn”, those seeking satisfying and cohesive storytelling on the other hand are unlikely to be as pleased. Granted “Franklyn” is far from a terrible feature, but one can’t help but feel it’s loose and limber plot might have benefited from a little tightening up, or a slightly more expedient burst of pace to reach the admittedly interesting climax.

The movie follows four individuals, three in modern day London the other in a gothic fantasy world called Meanwhile City. The inhabitant of the latter is an assassin (Ryan Phillippe) looking to finish off the leader of a dangerous new religion, despite being tracked by the government for failing to register within a faith himself. In the more familiar and metropolitan surroundings of contemporary England we also come to know a depressed singleton (Sam Riley), a vicarious and temperamental artist (Eva Green) and finally a father on the search for his missing son (Bernard Hill). Together their stories become interlinked and the barrier between reality and fiction is blurred as a consequence.

From a technical standpoint “Franklyn” is stellar stuff, the gothic layout of Meanwhile City and the sprawling corners of London providing super cinematographic fodder for the filmmakers. McMorrow displays an erudite and admirable directorial edge, evidently keen to provide his films with suitable amounts of visual polish and artsy shot composition. Those who favour visuals over story will have a field day with “Franklyn”, its striking look easily outscoring the confused and occasionally irritating screenplay. CGI weighs heavily in the set design but is rarely exploited to any other effect giving “Franklyn” an organic feel of haunted beauty. The musical score adds another layer of picturesque melancholy to proceedings, a disturbed but well crafted melody mix that melds well with the stunning visuals up on screen.

The story is where “Franklyn” tries hard but ultimately struggles, for the first half at least McMorrow’s script flails beautifully but rather hopelessly before the viewer. Things do tie up nicely before the credits roll and in terms of themes the picture manages to work religion and mortality skilfully into its getup, but the bendy plotline is a cause for concern. “Franklyn” doesn’t make alot of sense for much of the running and that’s a hard to forgive handicap, certainly for those accustomed to more mainstream fare it could equate to a damn near fatal failing. I Love the way that McMorrow has attempted something so lavish and audacious in his first effort behind the camera and I’ll reiterate that in fairness he makes it work out before the finish, but that still can’t bring me to overlook the excessively schizophrenic and tough to decode opening 60 minutes.

Ryan Phillippe is cloaked by mask for large portions of the movie but the narration he offers as a substitute is adequate, this is an obvious attempt by the actor to distance himself from his pretty boy routes. Eva Green is fiery and full of vim and vigour even if at times her art mongering leads McMorrow into moments of brutal pretentiousness, she is an actress deserving of bigger audiences than this fare is likely to grant. Bernard Hill gets the least screen time of the leads but manages to make it work which can’t be said for Sam Riley. The actor has been cursed with the least impressive arc but his soppy and one dimensional turn doesn’t do alot to improve matters. The worst bits of the movie are consistently those that feature him prominently.

“Franklyn” boasts a few quick action beats but is a film more interested in exploring the meaning of religion and its central characters. The screenplay is hard to handle for long periods and that makes the movie hard to totally recommend, yet something so daring and lavish really ought not to be ignored. The writing in “Franklyn” is harsh but the visuals are sterling and I suspect that there is a cult following for this strange little vehicle out there somewhere. Until then however, it’s intriguing but hardly essential viewing.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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