First-time writer/director Gerald McMorrow gets off to an impressive start with his sci-fi style tale of revenge, but quickly goes down hill when he tries to relate his fantasy settings to real world situations in this disappointing debut feature. Starring a mostly-masked Ryan Phillippe, former Bond girl Eva Green and Control’s Sam Riley, Franklyn had the potential to be a rewarding and memorable movie spanning a fantasy world and our own. It winds up shooting itself in the foot by withdrawing the fantasy elements too soon, preventing the climax attaining its full potential.
Ryan Phillippe plays Preest, a masked outlaw who wanders the futuristic Meanwhile City in search of The Individual, a man he considers evil who must be assassinated. In Meanwhile City, religions have sprung up everywhere to the point even washing machine instructions can be used as gospels yet Preest believes in none — the cold character has no need for religion, but it’s not clear why. At the same time in present day London, Emilia (Green) is an art student struggling with a suicide video project and at odds with her mother who is fed up with constant hospital visits. Seperately, a heartbroken man named Milo (Riley) is wandering aimlessly trying to find his first love and another, older man named Esser (Bernard Hill) is trying to find his son. Slowly these lost souls become connected as the fantasy shrouding Franklyn in mystery clears to reveal a climax which aims to be smarter than it really is.
At first, the fantasy elements of Franklyn are immersive and bring a great deal of intrigue with them – Meanwhile City is the film’s most enticing element and, although it borrows heavily from films such as Brazil and Blade Runner, McMorrow holds his own vision and builds up enough questions in your head that whenever the narrative switches to the real world you’re keen to understand where it all fits together. Preest looks eerie with a straightjacket-like mask and fights the authorities trying to lock him up for an unknown reason with a Matrix-like quality. Preest’s voiceover is deliberately vague, as is much of the dialouge, to retain the sense of intrigue which works to the movie’s disadvantage when attentions switch to Emilia, Milo and Esser.
The work here on a very small budget is impressive and show the potential McMorrow has to offer for his future projects.
Emilia’s plight with herself is frustrating as it’s not clear how we are supposed to sympathise with a self-obsessed artist and Milo is full of negativity towards his current life. Coupled with Preest giving very little away it is hard to bring yourself to like a character in Franklyn enough to want them to succeed. Esser’s increasing presence in the final third starts to bind their stories in the most obvious way you will have guessed the twist long before the fantasy’s cloak over reality is lifted. McMorrow gets preoccupied in the second half of the film trying to develop the real-world characters that he disrupts the flow of the movie too much and makes the end too obvious, too soon.
Yet, the work here on a very small budget is impressive and show the potential McMorrow has to offer for his future projects. Phillippe makes a good haunted man, as does Riley a broken man, however Green’s performance is simplistic, falling into the trap that artists who crave to be self-destructive are so because of their upbringing. McMorrow has some interesting ways of expressing feelings of loss, remorse, anger and hated, he also shows a positive view of religion despite the initial scenes of near-ridiculousness religious practices in Meanwhile City. He just lacked the finesse to round it all off at it’s end and fumbles around for a way to get the four characters in the same place. As a concept, Franklyn is an excellent example of the power of cinema to put you in two places at once, as a film it doesn’t quite realise the full potential of that concept.