Franklyn features four main characters. The first three live in modern-day England, but are unaware of the others' existence. In order of appeal, we have Peter Esser (Bernard Hill), a worried father searching for his missing son; Milo (Sam Riley), who is set adrift when his fiancée calls off their wedding; and Emilia (Eva Green), a tortured artist trying to untangle her relationship with her mother. The fourth character is a man called Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe), a masked vigilante who lives in a sprawling metropolis called Meanwhile City. Preest's most recent odd job, involving a little girl and a mysterious villain called The Individual, is revealed to have ended with the little girl's death, and Preest is out for revenge. Before he can quench his thirst for blood, however, Preest is captured by the city's top-hatted police officer figures and locked away for four years before the government tries to offer him a deal to take out the Individual. Preest agrees, but escapes before they can implant him with a tracking device, and moves to finish the job for his own satisfaction.
Of these four characters, we spend the most time with Emilia, and I'm extremely grateful to say that I've never met anyone like her in real life. Every minute she's on screen, she serves as an all-encompassing reminder of everything I have ever hated about people labeled as "emo" and anyone who takes the concept of "art" to moronic extremes. One of Emilia's attention-grabbing hobbies is to call an ambulance, then slash her wrists as both an awful "art project", and as a desperate grab for her mother's attention (and even then, when her mother doesn't show, Emilia seems to take more pleasure in being cynical than feeling remorse or sadness at the insensitivity). If I had been watching Franklyn for my own benefit, I can say with certainty the film would have been out of the player and back to the video store before her first "suicide" was over. I understand that the character, as written, has been through years of fighting, and has trouble speaking directly to her mother about the issues between them, but there's no justification for the waste of time and effort people spend on her just because she thinks she's creating some stupid video installation with meaning. As far as the acting goes, Green herself doesn't do anything wrong, but she doesn't infuse the character with any surprising flashes of humanity, either, and I spent most of the character's screen time fighting back irritation.
On the other hand, one of the few pieces of Franklyn that remains consistent is Hill's performance. From the moment he hears that his son is missing, Peter looks lost and slightly unsteady, as if he's on the verge of crumpling like a piece of paper, conveying a powerful sense of urgency and worry without any actor-y grandstanding on Hill's part. Sadly, the film's few strengths really begin and end with Hill, because Riley is merely passable, and his character seems fairly useless. Clearly, writer/director Gerald McMorrow had a place for Peter during the ending, but during the rest of the movie he flaps around, tacked onto the side of the movie, interacting with characters that don't serve any purpose and treading through a story that isn't very interesting.
I vaguely remember seeing a trailer for Franklyn, which is what prompted me to watch the movie in the first place, and the visuals and the spooky skull-like mask that Preest wears to hide his face were the primary points of interest. The film feels low-budget, especially in comparison to the scope of the story, and much of Meanwhile City is created with computer graphics and it doesn't always look as elaborate as the script may have intended, but it's certainly one of the more engaging parts of the story, because it's the most unfamiliar. The resolutions to the other stories might not be obvious, but in general, they don't seem that interesting; at least in Meanwhile City there's the chance we might see some hand-to-hand combat or stunning visuals. Disappointingly, however, Preest turns out to be the movie's red herring, thrust aside for scenes of Emilia rudely snapping first at a hospital janitor and later at her art professor, both trying to offer her advice on how to act like a normal human being.
As the movie winds down, it becomes clear that McMorrow has a grand scheme to the movie, one of those webs where everything is connected, slowly building to a finish that will supposedly turn the audience's entire understanding of the world as we know it right on its head. Once the film is all said and done, though, the film just feels like a poor Donnie Darko rip-off. Admittedly, Darko has its own imperfect moments of faux-philosophy, but his film is bolstered by innovative ideas about time travel, excellent acting and characterization, and the pure confidence with which Kelly stages his vision. By comparison, the strongest praise I'm likely to heap on Franklyn is that it's perfectly competent during the other portions, lacking any directorial flair or skillful editing to spice things up. Not only will the audience will probably have dozed off long before the story gets where it's going, but the twist is predictable, and whatever truths McMorrow was trying to convey are muddled and vague. Ultimately, Phillippe does get a chance to shine; while he's sorta distant for the first chunk of the film, he's genuinely great in the final reel, but his effort isn't enough to bring everything together.
The Video and Audio
Dolby Digital 5.1 English Surround is a more mediocre affair, without a whole lot going on in the surrounds. Ostensibly, some of the film is action-packed (although I certainly wouldn't label the film an action movie), but even the occasional bar fight or prison break doesn't cause the back channels to do a whole lot. Dialogue is perfectly audible though, and the score and a few ambient effects do poke through from time to time. English subtitles are also provided.
The movie's original theatrical trailer has also been provided. The bonus features are not subtitled, and there are no trailers before the menu.