Friday, September 23, 2011

My Review of Franklyn – A Mixed Bag of British Sci-Fi/Drama

Okay, I saw the trailer for Franklyn, and I'll admit it, they suckered me. The promo spots for this film, or at least the one I saw, focus on the most unusual elements of a film that is about two-thirds fairly mundane. You have Ryan Phillipe in a badass looking mask as some sort of dark vigilante in a fantastic dystopia that looks like it could have sprung from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, and a lot of unusual imagery from a dark haired woman in too much makeup, with occasional quick cuts of contemporary London. This trailer is, to risk understatement, misleading. All of the images presenting Franklyn as an unusual and risky dark superhero fantasy are advertising a different film, not the one that was made. Was the film presented in the trailer better or worse than the reality of what Franklyn delivers? That's a more difficult question.

This was the least disingenuous poster I could find for the film.

This is a difficult movie to summarize without giving the whole game away, as the first third of the film is complex, disconnected and the audience spends much of the time asking "What the hell is going on?" The characters we are shown have stories that on their own are not difficult to follow, but the plot and tone of each of the four stories being told suggest that they don't belong in the same film. One of the stories (the one that the trailer chooses to focus on, naturally) doesn't appear to belong in the same world as the others. There are bits of each tale that are well told, and a few characters that the audience can identify with, but for much of the film, I found myself wishing that they'd just get on with it. We have a dangerous masked figure reminiscent of batman dressed like Decker from Nightbreed, a stock troubled young female artist, a man who is dealing with having been left by his fiancee very near the wedding day, and an old man looking for his son.

First, let's start with Jonathan Preest, as his visual style sells the movie. I have to admit, the mask itself pretty much guaranteed that I'd check the film out. Ryan Phillipe gives us his best Rorschach impersonation in Meanwhile City, a place where everyone has a religion, as required by law. Everyone, that is, except for Jonathan Preest. He does his private detective work while evading the top hat and goggle-wearing Ministry Clerics, and the visuals surrounding everything he does are pretty awesome. The problem is, Meanwhile City is a one-trick pony, we get it... everyone has a different weird faith and we are constantly given examples without any deeper exploration of what such a society would be like. Preest himself is a collection of cliches, his gravelly narration and sparse characterizations have been seen dozens if not hundreds of times before. I'll grant that the overbearing fantasy without substance is likely as a result of filmmaker choice rather than lack of skill or imagination, but I'm not sure that gives it a pass.

Emilia, in the middle of her "art." Any time I saw this character's life
in danger, I found myself rooting for natural selection.

This brings us to Emilia, whose tale is, if anything more vapid, pretentious and cliche than anything in the fantastic Meanwhile City. I hated this character for the combination of not a single shred of anything unique or new and the overwhelmingly terrible art-house crap that is her work as an artist that the audience must suffer through. She is played straight down the numbers of any one of hundreds of gothy artistic women in films and comics. Wealthy mother, missing father, smokes and wears black and too much makeup while painting and shooting videos about sex, death and beauty while being depressed about her life and work. I found myself agreeing with her college art professor/advisor with regards to his assessment of how devoid of substance her performance art schlock routine was. Once again, given the presentation of the character and her role in the story, all of this could have been done purposefully, but that doesn't mean it belongs in something other people have to watch.

Milo is a little bit more sympathetic as a young earnest man who has just been jilted by the woman he was about to marry and leans on his friends and family while he tries to put his life back together. What little whining this character does is totally justified by what we see him going through, and a great performance from his supporting characters (his best man, his mother and the best man's better half) keeps the scenes from dragging. He begins seeing a mysterious woman around town as he tries to figure out how to cope with his destroyed love life, and pursues her into some unusual places, giving us just a tiny hint of the bizarre in his plot. Overall, played with more subtlety than the previously discussed characters, as we start filling in answers to the questions posed to his story, it carries a bit more emotional weight.

The fourth character, Peter Esser, is a highly religious man who is looking for his missing son. For me, his tale was the most interesting, and it has the least to do with any supernatural, fantastic or weird bits, at least to start. From the promotions for this film, you'd think that this part of the story didn't exist, as everything that doesn't focus solely on the Meanwhile City plot at best only shows the attractive young people as leads in the movie. This is a shame, as Esser's journey is a better detective story than anything in Preest's part of the film, and told from a unique perspective, to boot. I'd have liked to see the old man's search through hospitals and homeless shelters expanded on, as this bit had many of the best scenes in the film, and how his story ties into the other three very nearly redeems them by the end.

The film, by the end, does pay off in terms of a justification for why these characters are all in the same movie, and I was satisfied with the explanation. Franklyn isn't a bad film, but there is one character whose entire role in the movie annoyed me and diminished the experience as a whole, and the film that was advertised could have been a great one. Meanwhile City and Preest had potential, if there had been more substance to all of the great visuals, but in the end, what we got there was a really cool looking mask with absolutely nothing behind it. It is worth mentioning that this film had a fairly low budget and was the director's first film, and given those facts I'll give it credit for what it managed to do well. The final sequences could have been presented in a way that had more emotional impact and a better resolution, but I don't think "low-budget British sci-fi" when looking at the film as a whole. For those who have Netflix streaming, Franklyn is available as of the publication of this article, and it is worth a look. Just know what you are getting into, in spite of what the trailer promises.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


neatfit said...

This is a really good review, character by character, and you explain what is actually wrong. Great job, and 'low-budget british sci-fi' can sometimes be better than something like this.

Alpha said...

Reminds me of 'The Fall'.

Post a Comment