Gods and Monsters is an invigorating look into the spirit and the meaning to be found at the end of one's life. The film is based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram and explores the final days of James Whale, the director of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein movies. It was written and directed by Bill Condon (Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh) and features a highly talented cast, led by Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave. Though not every scene is right on target, Gods is perhaps one of the most moving and emotionally complex films to hit the theatres in a long while. The story takes place in 1957 and is based on the relationship between the retired director and his gardener. Whale (McKellen), long forgotten by the Hollywood studios, has withdrawn to a secluded life of painting. However, following the latest in a series of disabling strokes, Whale becomes more and more reliant upon the care of his live-in maid Hannah, and more and more distraught at what seems to have been a lonely and meaningless life. Then he meets Clayton Boone (Fraser), the burly young gardener that Hannah has recently hired. Whale becomes fascinated with Boone, and right away asks to paint him. Boone, though somewhat flattered, is reluctant to accept the offer of the intimidatingly flamboyant Whale because he is unsure of the old man's motives. Boone does finally accept, however (if only to please the lonely old man), and what results between the two is of the most beautiful of friendships. McKellen and Fraser thrive during these scenes, in which their true acting talent shines through delightfully. The film is at its best here too, for it is here where we learn about the fears and inhibitions of the two characters. We learn that Boone and Whale, at opposite ends of life but equally as afraid of what lies ahead, really need each other. Whale needs someone to validate his existence and to bury the monsters of his past, and Boone needs someone to fill the void that was created by the lack of a father figure in his life. There are times, however, when Gods and Monsters can run a little slow. I particularly felt this way during Whale's dream sequences in which Fraser played Dr. Frankenstein and McKellen appears as the monster himself. These scenes serve to reinforce Whale's view of himself as a perverted monster, but they don't seem fit with the tone of the film and feel confused. For the most part, however, the imagery that Condon loads his film with is wholly positive. One such instance takes place in a scene between Boone and his former girlfriend, Betty (Lolita Davidovich). Betty, the older of the two, gets through telling Clayton that he is too immature and drives away, leaving him standing all alone on a hopscotch course in the middle of a playground. Boone, upset by what Betty has just told her, kicks a nearby can in disgust. The unmistakable impression that Condon conveys to the audience is that Boone, playing kick the can on top of a hopscotch course, is indeed a child. There is no doubt, however, that the acting is what makes Gods and Monster shine. Both McKellen (Actor) and Redgrave (Supporting Actress) were nominated for Oscars, and deservedly so. McKellen (Apt Pupil, Richard III), in pulling off beautifully such a complex role, once again proves that he is one of the top four or five actors around. And Redgrave, who won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award for this role, brings energy and wit to Hannah, whose wry humor and old-fashioned religious morality helps to pump life into Gods while at the same time further antagonizing the beleaguered Whale. It is refreshing to see her character written in this way, as all-too often this type of supporting character acts merely as a go-between and mediator for the two major characters. Brendan Fraser is another plus, too. Audiences who are used to seeing Fraser in one-dimensional roles for such movies as Blast from the Past and Encino Man may be pleasantly surprised as to the amount of depth he is able to bring to Clayton Boone. There are very few films that come out nowadays that have a combination of good acting, scriptwriting, and directing. Gods and Monsters is one of those few. It is certainly a film that is driven by the acting, but Condon's direction, as well as his script (which earned Condon a Best Screenplay Adaptation Oscar) provides a workable stage for the acting to take place. The result is one extraordinary film that any true movie-lover must see.
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