dir-scr Gerald McMorrow
with Ryan Phillippe, Sam Riley, Eva Green, Bernard Hill, Stephen Walters, Art Malik, Susannah York, James Faulkner, Mark Wingett, Kika Markham, Gary Pillai, Jay Fuller
release UK 20.Feb.09
08/UK Film4 1h37
Two sides of dystopia: Phillippe (above) and Green (below)

phillippe riley hill
london film fest
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Franklyn Clearly aiming to be a cult classic, this beautifully produced film never quite manages to grab hold of our imagination because it's so resolutely murky and fragmented.

Preest (Philippe) is a mercenary hitman in a parallel world dominated by religious fundamentalism. After having a nasty run-in with the Clerics, he gets a second chance to take out The Individual, leader of a sinister cult. Meanwhile in today's London, Milo (Riley) is struggling to cope with a breakup, Emilia (Green) can't come to grips with her relationship with her mother (York), and Esser (Hill) is trying to find his missing son. Everyone is having a crisis of faith, or maybe their inner turmoil has just made it difficult to know what's real.

Filmmaker McMorrow creates a fascinating, fully realised world, with intricate production design that suggests Terry Gilliam at his most imaginative and a complex mythology that feels like The Matrix crossed with Donnie Darko. It's intriguing enough to keep our attention as we slowly make sense of the various story threads, especially as colourful characters pop up here and there to liven things up. On the other hand, McMorrow takes so long to resolve the splintered narrative that it's difficult to get emotionally involved.

And this is a problem for a film that's essentially one huge emotional journey. The actors are superb, realistically portraying their mopey characters and adding to the film's suggestive, mysterious tone. But none of them ever quite transcends the over-serious mood of the film, which makes it difficult to identify with any of the characters. While their emotional darkness is palpable, we don't actually know enough to feel it ourselves.

All of this gives the film a pretentious aura, which also echoes The Matrix and Donnie Darko. And the title itself is almost outrageously obscure. McMorrow is trying so hard to create something magical that it feels forced, especially as things come together in a soaring final catharsis. But there's so much great stuff in here that we wish he'd come at the material with a lighter touch, allowing for a bit more offhanded real-life humour and leaving the characters a little rougher around the edges, so we could take this extraordinary journey with them.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 21.Jan.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall