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Four lost souls, divided by two parallel worlds--one contemporary London the other a future metropolis ruled by religious fervor--on course for an explosive collision when a single bullet will decide all their fates.
For more about Franklyn and the Franklyn Blu-ray release, see the Franklyn Blu-ray Review
Starring: Eva Green, Ryan Phillippe, Sam Riley, Bernard Hill, James Faulkner
Director: Gerald McMorrow
» See full cast & crew
Franklyn Blu-ray Review
“If you believe in something strongly enough, who’s to say if it’s real or not?”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 30, 2009
Maybe it's an authoritarian, Big Brother-style government, or a dehumanized populace turned into mindless, emotionless automatons. Maybe, as in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, it's credit-obsessed consumerism, Rube Goldberg technology, and red tape bureaucracy gone mental. Or perhaps, to use an example from Michael Bay's The Island, one of the genre's lesser entries, it's the promise of heaven, when you're really just being sent up to get your organs harvested. Dystopian films nearly always have some central conceit, some element of humanity that has been either stripped away or grotesquely inflated. In Franklyn, a U.K. production directed by first-time filmmaker Gerald McMorrow, the dystopian society is called Meanwhile City, and religion is strictly enforced. No one religion, mind you, as any cobbled together belief-system will do, from the Seventh Day Manicurists—who gossip their Gospel with nail files at the ready—to the street corner cult dedicated to finding esoteric wisdom in the washing instruction tags on clothing.
Meanwhile City's sole atheist is a masked vigilante named Jonathan Preest (Ryan Philippe), who doesn't believe anything except, as he tells us, that he's "going to kill a man tonight." Preest slinks anonymously through the city, avoiding the Clerics—religion enforcers decked out in top hats and sunglasses—and hunting down "The Individual," the shadowy leader of a "nasty little faith" known as Duplex Ride. Like any detective worth his gumshoes, Preest has his favorite informant, Wormsnakes (Stephen Walters), a jittery weasel of a man with a facial tattoo that puts Mike Tyson to shame. After Wormsnakes pulls a Judas and gets Preest locked up in prison— an expected turn of events from a guy named Wormsnakes—Preest somehow escapes his Cleric captors and goes on the lam in Meanwhile City, still seeking "The Individual," who deserves punishment for killing an 11 year old girl.
While all of this noir-ish fantasy is going on—I hesitate to use meanwhile—three lonely souls in modern, real-world London go about trying to fill the vacancies in their empty lives. Milo (Sam Riley) is a forlorn Romantic who, after being jilted at the alter, begins to spot his childhood sweetheart around town conspicuously often. Emilia (Eva Green) is an art school Goth whose thesis involves filming her own attempted suicides as a way to get attention from her emotionally distant mother. And Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is a religious man—a Cambridge churchwarden— scouring city streets and homeless shelters for his missing son.
The storylines are initially unconnected, but just as the loose ends of a frayed rope braid down into a solid cord, director Gerald McMorrow eventually brings these four disparate strands together in a mostly satisfying dénouement that leaves little unresolved. At the same time, I can't help but feel that while the finished plot slides into place with an almost-audible click, the film unloads its ideas with scattershot imprecision, like trying to use a shotgun blast to drive a single nail into a wall. Much of the thematic content comes from Ryan Philippe's hard-boiled voiceovers, which give us pithy quips like, "Religion was deemed by the commoners as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Or how about this one: "If a god is willing to prevent evil but not able, then he's not omnipotent. If he is able but not willing, then he must be malevolent. If he's neither able or willing, why call him a god?" There's also a little bit of the old fate versus free will argument thrown in, a pinch of blind faith as a crutch, and a generous dollop of "why do bad things happen to good people?" None of the ideas are individually weighted enough to be heavy handed, but they do feel somewhat out of place at times, tied to the narrative with gossamer strings that could be easily severed. The ending, too, is thematically grey. While I appreciate a film that leaves its audience with some mental jerky on which to chew, Franklyn's was-it-fate-or- was-it-chance finale dissolves too quickly.
The script may be full of unfocused ideas, but I respect director McMorrow for trying to craft a challenging, non-linear tale that marries elements of traditional dramas with psychological thriller undertones and a dystopian fantasy aesthetic. While working with a moderately small budget, McMorrow, production designer Laurence Dorman, and costume designer Leonie Hartard have dreamed up an impressive visual style for Meanwhile City, one that borrows heavily from Tim Burton's gothic Gotham and the madcap insanity of Brazil, but still feels like its own creation. That Meanwhile City is featured so prominently in promos for the film is a little misleading—Jonathan Preest's story is only one of four—and some viewers might be surprised or disappointed that the comic-bookish action sequences are kept to a minimum. There are a few decently choreographed fights, but that's about it. The focus, instead, is on the mysterious connection between Meanwhile City and the real world, and on the hand of fate—or perhaps the winds of circumstance—that bring the four characters together in the end. Thankfully, the cast has the chops to keep us interested until the jigsaw puzzle is complete. Ryan Philippe is an unlikely masked hero—especially here in a British film—but he pulls it off well, despite some accent trouble near the end. Sam Riley, seen recently as Ian Curtis in the magnificent Control, mopes appropriately, and his Edwardian look is a perfect fit. With his brooding air and those high collars, he wouldn't look out of place in Twilight or True Blood. Bond girl Eva Green is a dark and sexy mess as Emilia, and Bernard Hill marches through the film's most thankless role with fatherly concern.
Franklyn Blu-ray, Video Quality
Franklyn has been given an excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that handles each of the film's stylistic changes with aplomb. You'll notice that each character's storyline is shot in a slightly different fashion: Emelia's world is darker, with strong contrast. Milo's story is told almost realistically, but with slightly dismal and desaturated tones. Esser is glassed with wide lenses and frequently shown in silhouette. And, of course, Jonathan Preest's Meanwhile City is a location unto itself, with colorful costumes set amid a bleak metropolis lit with strong directional lighting. In all four cases, the transfer aptly honors the director's intentions. While Franklyn isn't the sharpest or most dimensional film I've seen lately, overall clarity is great. You'll notice fine facial detail and clothing textures, and background objects are rendered nicely when intentionally in focus. Black levels are adequately inky—aside from a few grayish shots—and contrast varies between the storylines but generally sides toward an ultra-real, slightly heated look. The transfer is just about pristine, and the thin stratum of cinematic grain never becomes a distraction. Overall, while the film doesn't quite reach the big-budget look to which it aspires, it certainly comes close.
Franklyn Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While not as immediately impressive as the film's visual look, Franklyn's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track adequately fleshes out the presentation, even if there are few moments of out and out sonic ear candy. Less than an hour after viewing the film, I don't remember a thing about the score, but my notes tell me that the music was "subtle" and "subdued" but "appropriate." The track's range isn't quite as broad as what you'd hear in a bigger-budgeted production—LFE response is minimal and bass, in general, sounds somewhat flat—but all of the audio elements of the film are clear and detailed. I never had any issues making out dialogue, and I didn't reach once for the remote to adjust the volume of my receiver. Foley sounds are implemented well, especially punches, which land with a satisfying crunch. The rear speakers are used modestly throughout— mostly for ambience, like heavy rain, slight wind, and city sounds—and there are a small handful of convincing but unremarkable panning effects. All in all, the soundfield isn't exactly engaging or immersive, but this track suits the film's needs without drawing too much attention toward itself.
Franklyn Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Featurette (SD, 4:01)
This is an average EPK promo piece with clips of the film and brief interviews with the director and stars. What else do you expect from something simply entitled "featurette?"
Interviews (SD, 32:22)
These cast and crew interviews are much more informative, delving into the motivations behind the project, the actors' perspective on their characters, and the film's visual aesthetic. Features interviews with Director Gerald McMorrow, Producer Jeremy Thomas, Costume Designer Leonie Hartard, Production Designer Laurence Dorman, and Actors Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, and Bernard Hill.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 3:53)
Includes three deleted scenes: Emilia and the Medic, The Bearded Suits, and Milo and the Library.
Trailer (SD, 1:53)
Franklyn Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Franklyn may not be action-packed or thematically cohesive, but nonetheless it marks an impressive debut for director Gerald McMorrow, and I look forward to seeing whatever project he tackles next. Whatever Franklyn is, you certainly can't call it formulaic, and for that I'm appreciative. Fans of moody thrillers and dystopian parables will certainly find the film worth watching, but this one falls squarely in the "rent first, buy if you like it" camp.
Franklyn Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Franklyn Blu-ray Gets Detailed - August 18, 2009
Image Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Franklyn', which is scheduled to hit store shelves on November 17th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video will be presented in 2.35:1 1080p AVC accompanied ...
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