Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I Think Of: Franklyn (2009)

This 2008 British film is written and directed by first time feature length film directer Gerald McMorrow, that while seemingly a dark sci-fi fantasy film, is really much more. Set between contemporary London and the dystopic Meanwhile City, Franklyn is split between 4 narratives. Ryan Phillippe plays Jonathan Preest, a masked vigilante searching for his nemesis on the streets of Meanwhile City, a monolithic fantasy metropolis ruthlessly governed by faith and religious fervor. Bernard Hill plays Peter Esser, a broken man of faith, searching for his wayward son amongst the rough streets of London's homeless. Sam Riley stars as Milo, a heartbroken thirty-something desperately trying to find a way back to the purity of first love. And lastly Eva Green stars as Emilia, a beautiful art student whose suicidal art projects are becoming increasingly more complex and deadly. As the narrative shifts between the real and imaginary worlds, McMorrow explores the complex relationships between fantasy, faith, and love.

I've been wanting to watch Franklyn for some time. I first saw stills of the beautiful Meanwhile City a year ago and thought the film was going to be a full-on masked vigilante fighting corruption in a religious run world, with visuals over-riding any plot, and cgi reigning supreme. Wow, how wrong I was. Still, while the film wasn't what I was expecting, it nevertheless was a very enjoyable watch. There are just so many themes explored during the film, so many visual cues, that it felt like it belonged to the french new wave sect of cinematic history. Here are some of my thoughts concerning Franklyn:

  • writer/director Gerald McMorrow should give half his pay-check to comicbook writer Allan Moore because Franklyn is so heavily inspired by Moore's V For Vendetta and Watchmen comics- the look, the feel, the costumes, the way the characters talk in the fantasy world of Meanwhile City. Moore's worlds have always appealed to me so the look of this film perfectly suits my tastes, but yeah, wow, when the film ended I had to look at the back of the dvd cover to see if it was based on a Moore property I had never heard of. I wonder if the producers got the same art director from the V for Vendetta movie.
  • Still, while the narrative in the world of Meanwhile City is the most visually stunning, the most arresting part of the movie- it is just 1 story out of 4, and the rest of the stories are entirely original and wholly ambitious. From the story of suicide as art, to the story of imaginary friendship and lost loves, I love how McMorrow balances all four narratives until they ultimately meet. Granted, while the story may be a bit to ambitious for it's own good, and the overall narrative does get a bit confusing, Franklyn is a wonderful mix of realism and fantasy, of truth and half-truths, and of delusion and obsession.
  • Ryan Phillipe's Rorschach-like performance as Jonathan Preest was pretty good, but the one who stole the movie for me was the beautiful and painfully flawed Emilia, played by the lovely Eva Green. Green always chooses such odd and unique roles that I always find myself captured by her performances. There are just so many nuances to her character Emilia, so much hurt that is sparingly and subtly explained, that for me Emilia is the one that holds the whole film together. It's her arc that transcends this movie from being too arty and unbearable, to thought-provoking and interesting.
  • This film is incredibly slow, I mean languidly so. I can see many turning the film off an hour in because it's narrative is so fragmented, it's storyline a bit too confusing, and there's little to no action as the plot appears to just be turning in circles. However, if you do stick it out until the end, I do believe the viewer will be rewarded with a film that will make them think.
  • Though I also believe that this film would have been better served as a novella or even a short story, rather than a 95 minute film. I don't know if there is enough story here to warrant a feature length film and that adds to a lot of the pacing issues I had with the film. Like I said it's slow, and you do feel a lot of time passing as you watch this one. So yeah, while I do feel the payoff is worth it, I just wish it didn't take so long to get there.
  • Lastly, while the concept is strange and the film does walk a thin line of perhaps being to arty sometimes, Frankly has a lot to say about art and religion, about fervor and understanding. And my god, the costumes are just beautiful in a haute couture kind of way that a lot of times I felt as if I was watching a decayed city hosting a fashion show. Just great.

While I'm not sure how I feel McMorrow is as a writer/director yet, I can say that he made a visually handsome film with a limited budget. He does have a nice eye for drama, but some of his editing choices and storyline pacing left me scratching my head. Still, I really did enjoy the film and would recommend it to anyone who has a bit of patience, who doesn't mind feeling confused for 60 odd minutes, and loves watching beautiful characters in run down worlds. Watching the trailer, Franklyn really isn't what you'd expect it to be, and the film is all the better for it.

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