Image Entertainment // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // September 17th, 2009
Reality hasn't got a prayer.
An amazingly surreal and odd film, Franklyn marks the debut of English filmmaker Gerald McMorrow. The feature does test the patience at times and as a whole feels jumbled, but it's hard not to spare some admiration for something so fresh and vigorous in its conception. McMorrow will need to try and hone his skills a little further for his next offering, but the sheer imagination and visual polish of Franklyn makes me believe he has something genuinely interesting to offer the cinematic world.
Summarizing the plot isn't something that could be done without digging out intricate details and rambling for eternity, so I'm going to boil it down to its most basic elements. The movie follows four people all suffering great losses in their lives, three in contemporary London, the other in a Gothic and religion powered dystopia called Meanwhile City. The lone inhabitant of the latter is an assassin (Ryan Phillippe, Cruel Intentions) hunting the head of a dangerous religious movement. The others consist of a temperamental artist (Eva Green, Casino Royale), a heartbroken singleton (Sam Riley, Control), and a searching father (Bernard Hill, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Together their stories are interwoven with the distinction between reality and imagination being distorted as a consequence.
From a narrative standpoint Franklyn is ambitious but messy. For the first half at least its awkwardly split storytelling annoys more than it interests. In fairness, McMorrow ultimately combines things to a reasonably satisfying degree, but for much of the running time the viewer will have to force himself through proceedings to reach the accomplished climax. The movie incorporates several intriguing themes, and its use of religion and imagery is startlingly good. From a visual front, Franklyn is something of a gem. Jumping between two different worlds doesn't do the narrative flow many favors but from an artists perspective it's a dream playing ground, giving McMorrow the opportunity to flit between the dark and spectacular layout of Meanwhile City before rerouting to the familiar and mundane streets of London. The cinematography is beautiful and the score, courtesy of Joby Talbot, is undoubtedly a winner. These haunting facets go some way to making the first 45 minutes more bearable, though there are moments where the feature drops into the unforgivable wasteland of pretentious twaddle that so many first time directors fall prey to. There aren't quite enough of these eye rolling instances to deal Franklyn a fatal blow, and the superb aesthetic goes some way to repairing the damage, yet such dull and ponderous shot making will always hamper a picture to a certain degree. Franklyn is no exception.
The performances are solid and cast well suited to their respective parts. Large portions of Phillippe's efforts are cloaked by a mask but his narration is credible as a result. Eva Green continues to emit flair and is deserving of larger audiences that this sort of feature is likely to garner whilst Bernard Hill is as watchable and capable as ever. The one disappointment is Sam Riley, handed a part that feels flat and boring in contrast to the others, and in truth when Franklyn winds up it's Riley's arc that feels the most unnecessary and strained. The film manages a few action beats (any movie with an assassin should), but mostly it's a thoughtful and questioning feature, teasing out interesting views on religion, mortality, and family.
Franklyn is a decent film, and whilst its suffocating opening section and baggy screenplay deal enough damage to keep it from attaining greatness, it quietly makes an impact. Those who struggle with extreme quirk and at times excessive absurdity might question McMorrow's first time behind the camera, and whilst I would only advise a rental at best, something tells me this is a filmmaker with a promising future. The screener copy provided for review had no bonus content and audio and visual quality of less than stellar standard. As a result only the movie itself is incorporated into the final score.
Not for all tastes, but audacious enough to earn a Not Guilty verdict.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R