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Friday, 5 November 2010

Franklyn (2008)

I'm a movie lover and as I get older I'm moving away, in terms of taste, from flashy Hollywood Blockbusters and towards the more interesting, intelligent, thought-provoking pieces that seem to be all too rare in today's "think of a commercially marketable title, then write a story to fit" movie world! Time travel morality tale Primer is a perfect example of what I'm looking for, as is Four Lions, the terrorist-comedy.

Also, there's Franklyn. Unquestionably one of the most original screenplays to reach our welcoming minds in years. Set between the parallel, yet contrasting worlds of Present Day Earth and Meanwhile City, a sprawling faith-driven metropolis straight off the brush of some "Old Master", Franklyn is, at its core, a tale about loss and about how four seemingly unconnected strangers deal with it.

Starring Sam Riley, Eva Green, Ryan Phillippe and Bernard Hill, all playing fractured and frail individuals, as different from each other to begin with as their final fates are the same, the movie jarringly marries retro-future steam-punk pseudo-Victorian sci fi comic heroes and villains with the instantly recognisable energy and bleakness of contemporary London with such beauty and ill-begotten emotion that the story is almost secondary to the visuals here. But only 'almost'; this story is one of heartbreak, romance and, ultimately, peace. Described in one review as "Donnie Darko does The Matrix", Franklyn is that. But I think it's unfair to give such a visual, tonal comparison without praising the perfectly crafted tale underneath. It runs thus: Milo has been left at the altar on his wedding rehearsal day and, in the weeks when he comes to terms with this, he meets up with an old childhood sweetheart.

Emilia is a depressed artist whose latest project's suicidal practices may spell the end for her. Esser is a devoutly religious man, willing to forgive his missing son's sins if only he could find him within the sprawling and sick London back streets. And Jonathan Preest is a masked vigilante, the only non-believer in Meanwhile, a city where religious belief, of any and every kind, is mandatory. Having faith is the law; it's how the Clerics from the Ministry control the frightened masses. The four come together in a surprising showdown that ticks into view as if run by clockwork.

And I won't talk any more about the ins and outs of the story as I fear I may give too much away. What I will talk about, though, are the performances. Notably, Eva Green's troubled art student, Emilia. Eva's performance takes a firm hold of the problems her character faces; depression, suicidal tendencies, loneliness, grief and - the most impressive, for me - a love for her art that surpasses her need for survival.

Again, Sam Riley's vulnerable and mousey "hero" Milo is a particularly impressive turn from an actor I've not previously had reason to rave about. He brings a sense of being completely lost in a situation he has no control over any more to the screen with impeccable subtlety. The other leads shine, too! Bernard Hill's "nice enough every-man" searching for a son he feels he may never find is a heartbreaking thing to watch. His story, as it unravels, isn't a very happy one - despite the inevitable end to his tale that never comes. And Phillippe's poster-boy looks don't need to carry him in this movie, since he spends 80% of his screen time wearing a greying, expressionless mask. His movement and tone of voice take us from London and slam us face first into Meanwhile City at the most unexpected moments.

For such a glamourous cast this film relies very little on their 'heartthrobability' or 'hypnobeautification'. It's all story. It would have worked just as well (though not as grandly) as an audio-play in four parts. And when the final revelation comes, about 15 minutes from the end of the movie, it hits with a force you don't expect. Bridging characters and locations lay as clues to the solution of the puzzle throughout the film, but it isn't until you see the workings scribbled in the margin in that final few scenes that the weight of the story you've just watched lands on you and leaves you breathless, speechless and in awe. It was, to me, one of those films where you leave the theatre in silence, thinking. I immediately wanted to go and see it again. I did. Over and over until it left the cinemas altogether...

Luckily, it's been out on DVD for ages now! You can buy it at for a very reasonable, almost charitable £3.49. Don't buy it based on anything other than curiosity. Don't watch the trailer (above) and think you're getting V For Vendetta or anything like it. This is a romance. A dark tale of loss. It is a psychological thriller far more than it is a "comic book sort of beat-em-up thing". I know people who were disappointed in this movie because they knew too much about what they wanted before seeing it. Watch this knowing almost nothing and I guarantee, you will walk away struck dumb. AN incredible piece of cinema. 9/10.