Director: Bill Condon
Based on the novel Father of Frankenstein
Sir Ian McKellen
Kevin J. O'Connor
Running time: 105
"To a new world, of gods and monsters”
– Dr. Pretorius
, Bride of Frankenstein
James Whale lived a strange life. He directed Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man (among others). He resigned from directing, and spent much of his free time painting. He was openly homosexual at a time where being openly homosexual wasn't exactly accepted. Sir Ian McKellen plays James Whale, near the end of his life, a distraught man with an incurable illness that is eroding his mind and ability to think straight. He befriends his heterosexual gardener (Brendan Fraser). The main plotline focuses on their friendship. A hefty portion of the film is in flashback form, especially as Whale’s gardener learns more and more about Whale.
Brendan Fraser is surprisingly good. Truth be told, his acting resume isn't especially impressive, and he was smart to take a role like this. With Gods and Monsters, he was given a chance to actually act (in a very good film) and he did well. His character (a beefy gardener with a great haircut) is an odd fellow, but Brendan had to do more than just play a tough guy. While Brendan Fraser is busy proving himself, Sir Ian McKellan (AKA Gandalf) gives an Oscar nominated performance as the tortured Whale. McKellan, actually being gay, probably enjoyed working with Brendan Fraser. Lynn Redgrave is also great as Whale's loyal maid, who strongly believes that Whale is going to hell for his homosexuality.
Overall, I found this movie to be very interesting. Whale's life story is given to us piece by piece, throughout the film mostly in the form of flashbacks. Personally, I found the scenes done in the present more entertaining, simply because of the chemistry of McKellan/Fraser. They're a strange pair, Whale and his gardener (who tries his best to stay catiously homophobic around Whale).
Personally, I know the Frankenstein films somewhat well. I caught on to the wonderful allusions between this film and the Frankenstein films as soon as I saw the gardener's haircut. At the end of the film, they make the allusions quite blatant. I personally disliked this, but I understand the value of it, and it made the movie a bit clearer for the average viewer. A trade-off, I suppose. Somewhat-sophisticated techniques like that are definitely appreciated, one way or another.
The film is slow and dramatic. If you can't take those kinds of movies, this one ain't for you. There are no car chases. But if you do like movies with actual content, this is a worth-while biopic of a fascinating man.