Image // R // $35.98 // November 17, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 7, 2009
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Its cover art may paint Franklyn as some sort of neo-gothic fantasy, but at its core, this is more of a slow-burning mystery. The question isn't a standard issue whodunnit, though; this British indie drops four different storylines -- one of which is practically otherworldly -- onto the screen, and the question is how exactly they'll all inevitably interconnect.

Franklyn opens against the totalitarian backdrop of Meanwhile City. Only the accents hint at a location, and the sprawling Gothic architecture and lack of any apparent technology mask any sense of time. Is this some sort of dystopian future or an alternate reality of the London we know today? Franklyn prefers not to make this immediately clear, instead following a masked vigilante named Jonathan Preest throughout this bleak world where religion is used to control the masses. They're not forced to adopt any one faith so long as they believe in something, from a gaggle of 7th Day Manicurists to a congregation forming around a man rattling off instructions for a washing machine. Clerics stalk the streets to ensure that everyone is marching in lockstep with the faith mandate from up on high, leaving the atheistic Preest -- hiding his thoughts behind a blank, almost skeletal mask -- a wanted criminal. A young girl has been kidnapped by a sect known as Duplex Ride, and Preest has made it his mission in life to murder its leader -- The Individual -- and rescue this terrified child. The Clerics, draped in top hats and black leather, catch up with him first, and despite a valiant and brutal struggle, Preest is captured and is forced to endure the next four years in a cage. He's offered a clean break from his prison, though, so long as he can carry out a minor mission. All he has to do is subject himself to a tracer implant, but Preest refuses, breaking free from his captors and now seeking out the vengeance that was robbed from him four years ago.

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other three storylines are set against a more familiar take on modern-day London. Milo (Sam Riley) is still reeling from his engagement being broken off at the eleventh hour, not only heartbroken but forced to muddle through dismantling a wedding that was just off on the horizon. Peter (Bernard Hill) is overjoyed at the prospect of his son returning home for the first time in ages, but he vanishes before he ever arrives, leaving his father struggling to search for the truth. Franklyn also follows a deeply troubled young artist named Emilia (Eva Green) who's working through her anguish by turning suicide attempts into video art. At the outset, there's no apparent connection between them beyond a general sense of loss. As the film continues to unspool, though, a greater picture starts to take shape, and it becomes clearer how the unrecognizably different pieces of this puzzle fit together. That is the driving mystery...the hook that propels the film.

Franklyn would be startlingly ambitious for any filmmaker, let alone a writer/director mounting his first feature-length project. Gerald McMorrow has crafted something truly remarkable for his debut -- his is certainly a name to watch -- even if Franklyn isn't entirely a success. The film does benefit greatly from boundless imagination and an extraordinary visual eye. The sequences in Meanwhile City are set again sprawling Gothic imagery etched in stone, and its scale and scope are astonishing. The mix of noirish narration, a smirkingly satirical sense of humor, the swift, brutal brawls against the swarms of Clerics, and the exaggerated imagery feel like something torn out of a graphic novel. Preest himself seems as if he could've been an Alan Moore creation, falling somewhere between V and Rorschach. More than anything, I was intrigued to see how this could possibly connect with the more naturalistic approach to the remaining characters that exist in another
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reality altogether.

Of the four stories, I have to admit that the only one I felt much of an emotional attachment to is Emelia's struggle. Hers is by far the best realized of the film's characters, thanks to a blend of anguish, regret, and even an avant-garde artistic streak, and it certainly helps that it's anchored by such a terrific performance by Eva Green. By comparison, Peter's search for his missing son makes so little of an impression for the bulk of Franklyn that I'd frequently find myself forgetting that subplot was still dangling. I like Sam Riley as Milo well enough too, but there's not much of a hook to his storyline, and I just felt as if I were waiting patiently to learn what part he has to play in all of this, exactly. I greatly enjoyed figuring out how the storylines would collide, and although one of them is fairly straightforward, my other guesses wound up being rather far off.

Franklyn is extraordinary visually, and every last facet of what's splashed across the screen has been expertly crafted. It's been directed and produced with such supreme skill and confidence that this certainly doesn't seem like the work of a first-time feature filmmaker, and Franklyn benefits further from the strength of its cast. Not all of its storylines are as compelling as the others, though, and because Franklyn takes the time to explore where to place its pieces on the board, some viewers may be turned off by the deliberate pace of its first hour. Though I'll admit to not quite understanding all of it, I enjoyed the film quite a bit myself; Franklyn is fiercely original, endlessly imaginative, and engagingly mysterious, and it's a movie that's well-worth discovering on Blu-ray. Recommended.

At its best, Franklyn is absolutely dazzling on Blu-ray: overflowing with detail, startlingly crisp, and as close to a tactile, three-dimensional appearance as much of anything I've seen in high definition. The film doesn't consistently impress in quite that same way, but this is still a remarkably strong showing on Blu-ray, especially for a movie like Franklyn that draws so much of its strength from its visuals. Each character is surrounded by his or her own distinct look: the piercing blues that are bathed around Milo, Sarah's Technicolor gloss, the desaturated gloom of Emelia's life, and the stone grays and earthy hues as Preest skulks around Meanwhile City. The weight of its black levels and the robustness of the contrast can vary greatly throughout, though from writer/director Gerald McMorrow's notes in the extras on this disc, that's at least partially intentional. With the obvious exception of Emelia's standard-def video art project, Franklyn boasts a wonderfully filmlike appearance throughout, and there's a spectacular visual polish that leaves it looking like more of a blockbuster than a modestly-budgeted indie. In terms of crispness and detail, Franklyn varies between the extraordinary and the more routine, but this is still a terrific presentation of an incredibly ambitious film, and I really can't muster any complaints at all.

Franklyn's scope imagery has been encoded with AVC on this single-layer Blu-ray disc.

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Franklyn features a fairly subdued DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The bulk of the action is weighted across the front channels while the surrounds are reserved almost entirely for atmospheric color and to reinforce the score. The rears are largely filled with such sounds as whispered chanting, rainfall, and party chatter through a wall, but I'm not left with the sense that Franklyn would lose much if it had just been a straightahead stereo track instead. The only effect in the surround channels that really makes much of an impression is the swirling stalking of Preest's voice as he encircles his prey. The low-end is reasonably healthy, bolstering some thundering percussion, Preest's flurries of kicks and punches, as well as a colossal explosion late in the film, and the lower-key approach Franklyn generally takes doesn't lend itself to much more than that. Franklyn sounds unremarkable but still certainly fine on Blu-ray, but I just don't get quite the sense of distinctness and clarity I'm used to hearing on the format. I don't have the DVD handy to do a direct comparison, but I'm not left with the impression that the two would be worlds removed from one another. There's also a brief but annoying skip in the audio at the 43:43 mark. It's hardly enough to singlehandledly ravage the movie or anything, but this really shouldn't have made it through any sort of Q/A pass.

There are no dubs or alternate soundtracks on Franklyn, although subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Featurette (4 min.; SD): Franklyn's making-of featurette plays more like a promotional piece, really, recapping the overall premise while the cast and crew marvel at the
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    originality of the screenplay. There isn't much of interest for anyone who's already watched the movie, and their comments are all culled from the larger set of interviews anyway.

  • Interviews (32 min.; SD): Writer/director Gerald McMorrow is understandably the dominant presence in this half-hour interview reel, speaking about how Franklyn was inspired by an earlier short of his, the fluidity of his differing interpretations of modern-day London, crafting the look of Preest's mask, and relishing in Ryan Phillipe playing against the matinee idol type.

    Also interviewed here are producer Jeremy Thomas, costume designer Léonie Hartard, production designer Laurence Dorman, director of photography Ben Davis, and actors Ryan Phillipe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, and Bernard Hill. Because the remaining twenty minutes or so of the reel is divided among the eight of them, their comments tend to be more cursory than I would've liked...there just isn't the time to delve in-depth. Among the highlights, though, are Phillipe noting the physicality of a performance where his face is hidden behind a mask for so much of the film, Dorman pointing out some of the subtle bits of color and life splashed across the background of Meanwhile City, and Davis touching on some of his visual touchstones and the drive to shape different looks for each of Franklyn's four storylines.

    It's somewhat of a disappointment that they all couldn't have participated in a commentary track instead...something that may have given them enough of a runway to really speak at length about the film.

  • Deleted Scenes (4 min.; SD): The deleted scenes reel features a medic snarling at Emelia for wasting his time, a gag with a bearded sect rethinking the linchpin of their faith-du-jour, and Milo chatting with Sally about meeting with a medium when he was a child.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): The last of the extras is a standard definition theatrical trailer.

The Final Word
Franklyn is a startlingly ambitious and imaginative debut by writer/director Gerald McMorrow, and as modest as the budget is, the staggeringly high production values look as if the film cost several times as much to produce as I'm sure it did. On a technical and artistic level, Franklyn is masterfully crafted, though I have mixed feelings about the storytelling. The four distinct storylines do eventually intertwine, but only half of them are particularly compelling on their own, with the other two not quite finding their footing until the final act of the film. I still found Franklyn engaging, though, particularly the driving mystery of how these very different characters would inevitably collide. Though some may feel as if the slow burn of its first half is somewhat of a chore to wade through, I found Franklyn to be a rewarding discovery on Blu-ray, and the film certainly looks terrific in high definition. More comprehensive extras would've been appreciated, but this disc still comes Recommended.

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