Movie Review: The Trouble with ‘Franklyn’

22 Jun


Franklyn (R) 90 min. Directed and written by: Gerald McMorrow. Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Bernard Hill, Sam Riley, Richard Coyle. Cinematography: Ben Davis. Original Score by:  Joby Talbot.

Cinematropolis rating: 5

Ironically,  Jonathan Preest is the very last aetheist on Earth. Living in the Neo-Gothic shambles of Meanwhile City, Jonathan prowls the lonely rooftops like Rorshach on a Red Bull bender, seeking to avenge the death of  a girl he couldn’t save. His enemies are the fashion violating, Mad Hatter-esque Clerics who work for the Individual, head of the most dangerous religious sect in the city.  And in Meanwhile City, there are alot of sects. The world has abandoned reason and logic and its inhabitants embrace any possible glimmer of faith or desperate hope they can cling to; there is even a group of practicing Seventh Day Manicurists.

As Preest picks his way through the city, he searches for clues that will lead him to the Individual, whom he plans to assassinate. This steam-punk inspired universe looks like Dark City and Blade Runner went over to Terry Gilliam’s house, called up Anton Furst and then had the kegger to end all keggers. It’s a vast jumble of every concievable bit of religious iconography available; flagelletes carry golden idols through the streets while neon signs advise ‘Don’t Walk, Pray’. At its heart, Ryan Philippe’s Preest broods and obsesses over the thought of vengeance. So begins Gerald McMorrow’s Franklyn…and then five minutes later, it begins again.

meanwhile city 1

 Franklyn is a disappointing Rubik’s Cube of half-thoughts and fractured plots. Just as soon as the sci-fi story taking place in Meanwhile City begins, we are thrust into modern day London where the remaining characters live. First up is  Eva Green’s Emilia, an emotionally damaged art student who stages disturbing performance pieces that include video tapes of her own authentic suicide attempts. Emilia’s story intersects with Bernard Hill’s Peter, who is frantically searching hospitals and alleys for his mentally deranged son David. Finally there is heart broken Milo, played by Control’s Sam Riley, who pursues a woman who looks just like Emilia but may only exist in his mind. None of them ever interact with Preest and I kept waiting for the two realities to converge, until it becomes clear less than halfway through that Peter’s son David is Preest and Meanwhile City is all in his head.

That’s right, the most visually interesting and thought provoking segment of Franklyn isn’t even really happening; or, at least I think it isn’t. As the film progresses, the fantasy segements grow less and less frequent until all characters are meeting in an intertwined destiny that brings Franklyn to a literally explosive climax. McMorrow has about four great movies here, and instead of extrapolating upone one he has chosen to film them all at the same time.




Since the film is obviously made on a modest budget, I understand the need for the Preest segments to be condensed, but by hedging them in a fantasy world that is only in the character’s mind and never explaining that character’s psychosis, McMorrow cheats them of any power or interest they would have. The same is true of every segment. I typically love mind-bending films or cinematic puzzles that bring several disparate elements together into something that forms a challenging whole, but Franklyn isn’t that movie. It’s frustrating because each time it hooks an interesting angle, it gives it up and moves to something else.

The movie is visually gorgeous, and not just the future city. The juxtaposition of the phantom metropolis with the lonely cafes and austere hospital rooms of real-world London is very effective. McMorrow, as a director of scenes, is a pro. Any five minutes of this film could have been put together by Ridley Scott on his best day. The entire thing has been meticulously assembled, every piece considered and every performance stretched and fine tuned so that it marches in place with everything else. And still, Franklyn is a giant flippin’ mess.


 McMorrow is trying to tell the story of people in the midst of a personal tragedy but he doesn’t understand the movie’s theme; he seems oblivious of what a ‘theme’ even is. I kept expecting there to be some reas0n that Preest’s world is a place overrun by doctrine and the Church and why he seeks to snuff out the Individual, who might as well be The Authority from Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. None is given. A strange, angelic harbinger who wanders through London might possess the linking connection, but again, he simply exists in the folds of the story. I am reminded of those graphic novels where five or six artists and writers would create a stand alone thread and then one overarching writer would attempt to weave them together. Franklyn is what happens when you forget the weaver.

It isn’t a bad or boring movie, but it’s an entirely frustrating experience because it shows so much potential and then squanders it by not picking one solid path to follow. The actors are at the very top of their game. Phillippe could have really run with the Preest storyline if the filmmakers had allowed him to internalize it and make it a real character. Eva Green makes us believe that not only is she an art student, she is also certifiably crazy. Her story is the most extraneous, but she manages to make it the second most human. The first is Bernard Hill’s search for his son. Hill, who you may remember as King Theoden in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, conveys a depth of hurt and bewilderment that feels nothing less than genuine. Everyone he interacts with is better by extension of his involvement. I was emotionally caught up in his quest and I wanted to see its resolution. Again, as with the others, there is none. I could say something about Milo and his mystery girl, but I don’t think anyone  gave very much thought at all about what they were going for with that segment so I’ll leave it alone except to say that Sam Riley isn’t just a good actor, he’s an intelligent one. He must have known his story was nearly detrimental to the film’s overall flow, so he downplays it and pitches his performance as if he were in a two person romantic drama instead of the surreal muddle of Franklyn.


I’ve been anticipating Franklyn for awhile now. It looked right up my alley, with great set pieces, a mind-warping tale of alternate realities and the possibility of real drama. In the end, it has all of those things at different moments but none of them last and in the world of this film, the most ephemeral quality is entertainment. 

 Incidentally, the name on the door of the apartment above Emilia’s is Franklyn; this is the only clue to the movie’s title. Like everything else, its a tantalizing thought, quickly forgotten.

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