Frailty is such a film that rises above its genre peers to make it one of the touchstones to compare future movies of this genre

Moviegoers have always loved a good scare. The current trend of excessive bloodshed, special effects and thin plots, it is rare to see a thriller/horror film that depends upon talent rather than the special effects department. Frailty is such a film that rises above its genre peers to make it one of the touchstones to compare future movies of this genre.

Frailty eases the audience into the film. The night is stormy, the rain pouring down as FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) responds to a call to come in. A man that introduces himself as Fenton Meeks (Mathew McConaughey) tells Doyle that he knows the identity of the serial killer know as the God’s Hand killer. What follows is a retrospective narrative that reminded me of another classic, The Usual Suspects.

The tale unfolds; Dad (Bill Paxton) is visited one night by an angle of God who tells him that he and his sons must destroy demons that live among men. Young Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and his younger brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are dumbfounded by this revelation. Adam, the more religiously oriented of the two, goes along with Dad but Fenton doubts and begins to rebel. The story builds piece by piece, slowly laid out before the audience. The manner in which this story is revealed is the secret behind its success. The audience is not seen as mindless viewers but is drawn into the tale by means of an intelligent script, fine acting and great direction.

There is always the nagging suspicion that Dad may be right, that he did receive a divine mission to discharge. There is nothing too overt to lead the viewer to this, just the barest hint laid down across the narrative. The camera brings us to the viewpoint of the child. It looks away during the actual murder. We don’t witness the horror of the slayings but they affect us. There is an internal logic to the events, a consistency that may require several viewings to really pick up on. This in itself is a rare thing in this genre. Even after you know the ending you will see things in subsequent viewings you never realized previously. This is a water cooler flick, one that will prompt a vigorous discussion over the many possibilities to what actually occurred in Frailty.

All too often the audience is not properly credited with intelligence in thrillers. The producers just want a quick joy ride to fill one hundred minutes or so. Here you have a piece of cinema that will make you think long after you leave your seat.

It was a good idea to get actual Texans to play the main roles here. The three main adult roles are played by men of this state and help to convey the actual mindset of the characters. Boothe has often played the government man, a man of dedication to his thankless job. Here his role is smaller than others but he brings a dedication to it that makes you believe the circumstances of the film. McConaughey plays a verbal fencing match with Boothe. A chess game of words that make the dialog a part of the film not just filler. Paxton is frightening as Dad. A man that truly loves his sons works hard and feels that God as singled him and his family out for something special and important. The real stars of Frailty are the two young actors that play the boys. O’Leary has a control over his facial expressions that bring an odd realism to what could have degenerated into a story of fantasy. Sumpter as the younger of the two boys brings us into his world. He loves Dad and God and desperately needs to believe. The performances here create a Rubik’s cube of a story. You know there is a solution but with every twist and turn more possibilities are presented.

It is an old joke that all actors want to direct and all directors want to act. Not since Tim Roth with his War Zone have I seen an actor make such a successful transition to director. Paxton seems to know that his main career is acting and is willing to take more risks in his directorial debut than many first time directors would be willing to take. Having acted under some of the best directors in Hollywood, Paxton certainly paid attention on all these sets. He has worked with the best and learned from them. For example, the retrospective narrative is a difficult manner to tell a story. Cut too fast between time periods and the audience will feel lost. Hold too long in each time and the audience will forget the connections. Here, Paxton knows when and how to change periods. The present day scenes are shorter than then ones in the past, enticing the audience, making them think they know the ultimate outcome of the story. In homage to Hitchcock Paxton baits the audience without giving in to gratuitous violence. The scenes in the past are kept at a slightly softer focus than the present. This gives a feeling of recollection to them. The present is set on a stormy night, the perfect atmosphere of gothic horror. He uses a restricted color palette to help us focus on the performances without distraction. Personally, I look forward to his next time behind the camera.

The Frailty disc is extremely well done. The Dolby 5.1 providing a soundtrack that is noticeably fuller than many out there. There is great attention given to the placement of sounds, always consistent with the action on the screen. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is crisp and clear even in the darkest scenes.

There is a good selection of extras provided on this DVD. There is a half-hour long featurette dissecting each aspect of the pivotal scene in Frailty. Add to this some deleted scenes and three commentary tracks and you will watch this disc many times and enjoy each viewing. If you are looking for the typical thriller this may not be for you. Frailty is not light viewing. Frailty requires the audience pay attention to the plethora of details presented here. Frailty is well worth the investment.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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