2002 - R - 100 Mins.
|Director: Bill Paxton
|Producer: David Kirschner, David Blocker, Corey Sienega
|Written By: Brent Hanley
|Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Luke Askew, Matthew O\'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter
|Review by: David Trier
When people like James Cameron and Sam Raimi are quoted calling Bill Paxton's Frailty one of the best edge-of-your-seat thrillers around, that holds a little more weight than your average movie critic. But then again, didn't Paxton star in Cameron's Aliens, True Lies and Titanic as well as Raimi's A Simple Plan? Perhaps they really meant it. After all, I think Ebert liked it. But then again, maybe they were just being nice. Glad I'm not charged with that responsibility!
When Fenton (Matthew Maconaughehauueeiieighy) invites FBI Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) to take a look at the graveyard his serial-killer brother made, he's also more than happy to run us through the flashback that got us here. In the late 1970s, Fenton's dad (Bill Paxton) informed he (Matthew O'Leary) and his little brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) that they were now soldiers of God, charged with receiving a list of demons and destroying them. Oh, they may look like people, but one touch and you should be able to see their mortal sins. God is kind enough to provide Dad with the tools, an axe and a metal pipe, as well as detailed instructions on how the bodies should be chopped up and buried. Adam is right on board from the get-go, but young Fenton thinks his dad is a few marbles short of, uh, a marble collection, uh, in his head... whatever, you know what I mean. Fenton feebly tries to stop him, but Dad keeps picking people up, dragging them home, seeing their sins, and chopping them up. In the present, Fenton explains how his brother continued the important demon-slaying work and is the "God's Eye" killer, but maybe there's more to the story.
When a movie about miserable people doing miserable things works, it's because we want it to. Something about a character gets under our skin and we sincerely care whether they're vindicated or punished. Look at Monster's Ball or anything Lars von Trier directs. We literally sit at the edge of our seats and ask, "What's gonna happen next? What's going to become of that person? How is the story going to be resolved? Why does the kid behind me keep kicking my seat? Is this my popcorn?" Frailty is therefore an ironic title, because none of the characters are solid enough to pull you in. The script may try and throw you for some loops, but you're likely to quit guessing because you don't really care.
Paxton tries hard to pull off his directorial debut, but flashbacks within flashbacks, irritating voice-overs and too many shots of young actors trying to cry makes the film feel hokey. If it were able to capture a solid sense of itself, like Jacob's Ladder for example, the absurd subject matter can be taken seriously and result in gut-wrenching horror. But Frailty can't help but look silly most of the time, and the very serious subject matter treads too close to campy. Paxton does, however, piece together a few shocking moments and makes an excellent use of that axe-into-flesh sound I like so much.
Paxton, while no Anthony Hopkins, is a welcome addition to any film. His ability to maintain a legitimate film career even with a resume full of schlocky horror/comedies, is commendable. Who can forget Chet from Weird Science or Hudson from Aliens or Gus for any of you who saw The Dark Backward? As the dad, Paxton definitely has some brilliant moments, but comes off as a bit self-conscious in the scenes that are more conversational. Still, a decent job all around. Maconnauhhheeeiggghhy has a good look for his role and a steady psychotic stare, but never really has any opportunities to emote in the way Kevin Spacey did in The Usual Suspects. Matthew O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter are both pretty believable as the kids.
Credit should be given to the screenwriter for making an easily producible low-budget script. And although the ending is more annoying than it is distrubing, it is certainly well-thought out. All in all, Frailty may not be your standard Hollywood drivel, but it greatly confuses being unpleasant with being interesting.