(C) 2002 Lion's Gate Films
Released April 12, 2002
Running time: 99 minutes
Directed by Bill Paxton
Written by Brent Hanley
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter
Frailty is one of those movies, like Fight Club or The Sixth Sense, with vital information for understanding the movie given at the very end. As such, spoilers will really ruin this movie for you; the portion of this review that deals with specific plot elements is in ultra-tiny text below - you can copy&paste it elsewhere if you've already seen the movie.
I'd like to classify this movie as a thriller, rather than a horror movie; there is no real intent in the movie to scare the audience, or give them nightmares for the next week. Instead, the focus is on leading the audience into making assumptions, and then breaking these assumptions. It (probably) won't make you scream, but it'll make you think and shake your head with apprehensive confusion.
A brief plot introduction: a man (Matthew McConaughey) walks into an FBI office claiming to have information on an unsolved serial murder case perpetrated by the "God's Hand" killer. In fact, he says, the killer is his brother, who recently committed suicide after an emotional outbreak. He continues by telling the tale of his father, who once received a heavenly vision commanding their family (father and two young sons) on a mission to slay demons on earth. Most of the movie is spent in flashback mode, telling the story of how the father tried to maintain their close-knit family while fulfilling their mission as soldiers of God.
Technically, the movie is excellent, for the most part. Acting is top-notch, especially from Bill Paxton and the two excellent child actors, Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter. Directing is good but not entirely consistent, with sometimes mediocre, but occasionaly brilliant camera-work. Production, mostly, is very good - pretty unnoticable (a good thing), but with a few regrettable production decisions.
Oddly enough, I can't tell whether or not I liked this movie. One part of me is rather revolted at the premise behind this movie's conclusion. I feel... betrayed (more on this in the spoilers section) by the story. I feel as if I trusted the movie to play by certain rules, and these rules were broken in the act of concluding the movie. On the other hand, the double-no-triple-twist ending was not only novel (even in a genre that makes an art of twist endings), but elegant and complete. The last loose end, in fact, is tied up in the movie's final line. The facts we are left with at the end of the movie are radically different in nature from those in similar movies (Sixth Sense, Memento, Insomnia, etc.). I admire the film for having the balls to take the story in such an uncharted direction and still satisfy the necessities of plot development. I admire it for throwing standard plot logic rules to the wind. I admire it for disturbing me. Although it didn't make me question my assumptions on the subject matter (relegious zealotry, moral relativism) , it did make me question my view of how movies should behave.
In summary, I think I would classify this movie as a must-see for fans of the thriller and horror genres. However, it's probably a mixed bag for those of you who are indifferent to this kind of movie. It's very well done and will keep anyone on their toes for the better part of 2 hours, but I can't say you'll get much out of it besides a temporary mindfunk.
I have a few specific problems with this movie. Primarily it fails to establish a platform of reality that the audience can base their analysis on. Supernatural occurrences, like heavenly visions and the telepathic revelation of sin in this movie, need to be justified and verified. It is a common idiom in the thriller-horror genre to have a killer believe he has supernatural powers, and in all examples I know of, this idiom is concluded by having logic/science/good police work prove him wrong. It's almost like the movie is making a case for serial killers by concluding with the killer as "good guy". Protagonists are supposed to be heroes (or at least anti-heroes), but I certainly hope nobody would ever try to emulate, or even admire, the protagonists in this film. The characters and plot are based on fantasy, and without a believable platform of reality as a reference point, the movie has really no bearing on our situation in the real world. And yes I believe that fantastic fiction/sci-fi CAN have relevance to our world, sometimes MORE relevance than realistic fiction - but this relevance is dependant on a kind of contract with the audience - something Frailty violates in the process of twisting and turning its plot around.
Info from www.imdb.com and www.allmovie.com