Saturday, November 21, 2009

DVDebut: Gerald McMorrow's FRANKLYN blends sci-fi & psychology to good effect

For anyone a tad curious about FRANKLYN (and with Ryan Phillippe, Sam Riley (yes, from Control), Eva Green, Susannah York and Bernard Hill in the cast, how could you not be?), here's the scoop. Made in 2008 and released this week in the U.S. directly to DVD, the film is the first full-lengther to come from 39-year-
old British writer/
director Gerald McMorrow (at right), who acquits himself rather well for a first-timer.

His movie is very easy to look at, what with its particularly interesting sci-fi visuals that are just bizarre enough to merit attention. We're thrust into a very odd tale of a masked man (Phillippe -- below, center) who is set upon committing murder. Why and how we slowly learn, at the same time as we find ourselves in a seemingly alternate, present-day universe.

Initially religion appears front and center, with this appealing bit of narration to consider: Commoners believe religion to be true; wise men know it's false; rulers find it useful. It seems, in this weird land that looks and sounds something like London, any religion is just fine, so long as you have one. And there is a plethora from which to choose. (My favorite is the sect that a young woman says she's growing tired of: The Seventh Day Manicurists.) Soon, however, religion falls away and psychology takes over.

A mother and daughter (York, above, and Green) are having a traumatic time in the therapist's office; elsewhere, a young man (Riley -- below, right -- with Green) has been stood up at the altar, while an old man (Hill) is searching in vain for his missing son. All this will coalesce, but not before a lot more has been tossed into the mix. Were it not for the very game cast that makes each moment believable, we might lose interest. But no, we soldier on. While the scenes set in present day command our attention by virtue of the performers, it's the look of the sci-fi section -- costumes, sets, lighting and the lot -- that consistently perks us up. Cinematography is by the excellent Ben Davis (Incendiary, Layer Cake), the production design from Laurence Dorman, and the art direction via David Doran, James Wakefield and Jan Walker.

If the plot strands seem initially far apart, they come together in a more nuanced and complex manner than we're used to. Eventually we begin to understand what is happening and why.Then the movie goes wildly, crazily romantic -- and damned if that doesn't work, too, because previously it has all seemed so dark and strange that we somehow welcome this surprising change.

I can understand why Franklyn was deemed not-ready-for-prime-
time release but that doesn't mean it's not worth a watch at home. The fact that it manages to incorporate the middle east and post-
traumatic stress syndrome -- among its many threads -- and does so in an inventive way that never cheapens things -- is quite a feather in Mr. McMorrow's cap.

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