There are movies that, despite their lack of budget and film-makers' experience within the medium of film—despite their failings in telling a coherent, and entertaining story, nevertheless excel in their ability to enthral through idea and theme alone. Franklyn which too often sets out in this manner, in turn neglecting engaging narrative for contorted, mystery-tinged manipulation, is not one of those select few features. Restricted by a small budget and the director and writers' inexperience with feature length productions, the film is interesting to a certain degree but too often falls flat when trying to compel the viewer either through character or plot. Indeed, the only sole reason to continue watching a film such as Franklyn is to find out what the hell is going on; and then you get to that finish line only to realise that the payoff isn't quite what you expected. The result is a feature that feels half-baked, underdeveloped and frustratingly vague for its first two acts. So much so that by the time director Gerald McMorrow decides to show us his hand, we've more or less left the table and cashed in our chips.
The problem with Franklyn isn't that it is short on ideas, but that it is short on ideas upon which to implement the themes and arcs to which McMorrow obviously wants to get across. For sure, this is an original, interesting and intriguing piece of work; but it's also dreary and tiresome at the same time. First time viewers should not be alarmed if plot details go amiss, or if the story seems overly convoluted, disconnected and a little contrived—because this is exactly how McMorrow pens his tale. It's deliberately withholding for a reason, and that is because without that sense of mysticism and deliberate manipulation, Franklyn is a mirthless experience. Taken on face value in retrospect, the ninety minutes doesn't feel completely wasted, but there is a certain degree of fallacy involved here that comes off as cheap and overly ambitious. Indeed, this is a bold effort from the first-time filmmaker, and one has to applaud such an audacious venture—but it's also very hard to be convinced by Franklyn either in its grandiose tale, or its dubiously surreal and contorted narrative.
For the majority of the feature, we are treated to four stories revolving around four separate characters split over what appears to be two very different timelines of alternate dimensions (this is, of course, merely a subjective speculation on the part of myself, as the truth behind the events of the film are never truly explained—and fair enough, I suppose). Each of the characters have their own little quirks; Emilia (Eva Green) is an extremist artist driven to video-tape serial suicide attempts made by herself; Milo (Sam Riley), a romantic who has recently been left at the alter; a masked vigilante named Preest (Ryan Phillippe) who occupies the alternate reality within a city named "Meanwhile City" ruled by religion and dogmatic oppression; and a father in search of his son gone missing after a traumatic event involving his sister's death.
At first, all the characters within Franklyn's two worlds seem distinct from each other, and without and form of link—so much so that much of the feature's initial hour is slow moving and irksomely disjointed from any sort of clear focus or direction to the first time viewer. Yet as the plot unravels, and metaphysical realities are explored with death, imaginary friends and delusional beliefs briefly analysed, the seeds that are planted during the initial acts begin to blossom. It is disappointing then that by the time McMorrow pulls the proverbial rug on us, we don't really care anymore. Confined also by the limitations of such vague narrative and an ending that brings everything together in a poetic but fruitless manner, Franklyn eventually crumbles under its own weight and pretension. It's a movie that tries too hard to be larger than it really is on paper, and the cracks are all too obvious.
In the end, I wanted to like McMorrow's work here a lot more than I actually did—it's brave, interesting and makes some intriguing statements on the nature of reality and our perceptions of such manifestations to ourselves as human beings; but at the end of the day I couldn't bring myself to be convinced or won over by the implementation of such ideas. For sure, there was potential here within the bare-bones skeleton of McMorrow's premise and themes—but burdened with obstructive restrictions both in a narrative sense and a production sense, Franklyn simply never comes off the page like it should, and the result is lukewarm in every regard; sporadically intriguing, but overly flawed—I have to wonder why this made the big screen at all; I got the feeling that it could have made an even better mini-series for TV.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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