Franklyn (Director: Gerald McMorrow): Featuring a fairly high-profile cast (Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley), this film from first-time director Gerald McMorrow was making its North American premiere at Toronto After Dark, nearly a year after it premiered in London. Digging around a little on the IMDB site, I found that it’s done very little business theatrically and will have a difficult time recouping its $12 million budget. Now normally I don’t care about such matters, but in the case of Franklyn, it may be somewhat instructive.

The film gradually weaves together four separate threads. Three of the characters live in present-day London, while one (Phillippe) exists in a futuristic steampunk world called Meanwhile City. The trailer and marketing materials lean heavily on the steampunk angle to try to lure genre fans such as those who attend Toronto After Dark, but in reality, the steampunk segments, though beautiful to look at, are the least satisfying parts of the film. The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of the casting director. Phillippe is simply dreadful in a role that by all rights should have gone to a British actor. Playing a masked vigilante atheist in a city where religion is the law, Phillippe attempts action-hero stuff by fighting “clerics” and delivering a ponderous voiceover.

When the film cuts back to the other characters, it feels like we’re in a completely different movie. Eva Green plays a suicidal artist whose bizarre video projects seem to exist in the film only to show her in different outfits and with different makeup. Sam Riley is a heartbroken young man whose childhood imaginary friend suddenly reappears. Bernard Hill plays a quietly religious man looking for his son who has escaped from a mental asylum. Although I don’t want to spoil anything, I think you might be able to figure out where this is headed.

I’m not opposed to this sort of psychological thriller. In fact, just a few weeks ago I mentioned Paperhouse (1988), another British film which similarly blended genres to come up with something fresh. And I will give McMorrow credit for an interesting idea which he is able to tie together nicely by the ending. But for most of the running time, audiences are likely to be confused, and for genre audiences like those at Toronto After Dark, I suspect most would have preferred to watch a film that was completely set in the steampunk universe. To make matters worse, the casting of Ryan Phillippe was a huge misstep; his line readings had me rolling my eyes very early in the film.

I suspect that this will head straight to DVD on this side of the pond, and it would make an interesting rental, but one can only hope that McMorrow will get another chance to do a genre-blending film the right way.


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5 Responses to Franklyn

  1. Brooke says:

    Yup, it was a clunker in a way, because of Phillipe. I loved the story idea and Meanwhile City is visually stunning. But I’m afraid Phillipe is no William Holden and Franklyn is no film noir.

  2. Pats says:

    I’m not quite sure what your criticizing re: Phillippe’ s Preest. Was it that the role or his portrayal? Sounds like the former. Either way, I disagree with your assessment . This was largely a physical role and he brings just the right amount of presence to the part. Franklyn was no big box office draw, but remains an intelligent, interesting film by a writer/director that I hope we will more of in the future.

  3. Winnie Cooper says:

    What’s really interesting about this review is that Mr. McNally seems to take pride in his inability to read a cinematic text and criticizes the cast and filmmaker for it.

    Sweetie, don’t blame others for your limited intellect, just trust in your solipsism, re-watch flicks like Star Trek and Transformers, and keep your gaping maw shut about things you don’t understand. I know this is hard for men, who are socialized to think they’re right about, and entitled to, everything, but trust me; shut up.

  4. Robert Harding says:

    I agree… best comment ever! I wish I had thought of it 😉
    I’ll be doing a “I wish I was the director”‘s cut where all that you watch is that awesome that is Meanwhile City

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