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.