While Franklyn might not want to admit it, and will do as much as it can to convince you otherwise, this is a very modestly budgeted film. Sure, a quarter of it takes place in a gorgeous CGI city, but only £6 million were actually spent in its creation. I have a feeling a large amount was done creating this city, but it just goes to show you what talent can do to overcome any shortcomings in your budget.
Franklyn tells four stories, seemingly unrelated, which will all come together at some point. In this case, that point is the ending, and up until that point, the main characters won’t interact with each other at all. Unlike other films like this, these are separate stories with only small similarities in terms of location and supporting cast to tell us that they’re linked at all. One main character isn’t just going to appear in the background in a story they’re not involved in, for example. You’re in the right to be confused for the earlier portions of the film, as it takes a while to get oriented and figure out just exactly what’s happening.
What seems to be the gel that holds everything together is the fantasy plotline, so I’ll start there. It tells the story of a man named Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe), and is set in the imaginary “Meanwhile City.” Here is a place where everyone is required to prescribe to a religion, no matter how silly. For instance, some people have based their religion on washing machine instructions. To be an atheist is the biggest crime in the city. Unfortunately for Jonathan, he’s the sole atheist in this city. He also serves as our narrator, explaining us that he’s going to kill a man named The Individual.
Our next story involves an art student named Emilia (Eva Green). She’s working on a college project, while also attempting to repair her relationship with her mother. She’s a true “artist,” doing anything for her “art.” She winds up in hospital after overdosing on pills and recording what happens after the paramedics arrive. That’s her life, and as she explains to someone at the hospital, she does this monthly.
We then go to Milo (Sam Riley), a heartbroken young man who mopes around a lot before seeing a woman he used to love when they were children. He proceeds to stalk her. Finally, we have Peter (Bernard Hill), a church warden whose son has gone missing. He travels to London (where our three “real world” stories take place) in order to try to find him. He essentially plays a detective, and plays it fairly convincingly. It was this character that I liked the most, as his motives seemed more noble (and sane) than others. Perhaps Milo would have worked out better if he didn’t spend half of the film whining about his life.
Despite this, we spend the most time with Ryan Phillippe’s character, wearing a mask that reminded me of one of the baddies in The Strangers. Nobody in Meanwhile City makes mention of the mask, reinforcing the fact that it’s nowhere close to reality. He’s on a mission: Locate this man and kill him. Four years in prison temporarily suspends his task, but eventually he escapes and is ready for action. This story’s visuals alone overwhelm all of the others stories, and I think this character deserves his own film. We could spend two hours in Meanwhile City with this man, going on any random adventure. It has enough depth to give us that.
Soon enough, reality and fantasy collide, and we’re trying to figure out just who this Jonathan Preest character is. Most of the film is tense just because of this; you want to figure out who he is and what real-world implications, if any, his character has. And you want to do it before Franklyn explains it to you. Your mind is always at work, hoping that you can outsmart the film. Unfortunately, in the end, it doesn’t matter.
This is a film where the buildup is far, far more entertaining than the payoff. That doesn’t make it a bad film by any stretch (if you greatly enjoy 80 minutes of a 90 minute film, that doesn’t make it bad), but it does leave a bad taste in your mouth once it concludes. While I didn’t put the entire puzzle together, most of the pieces fell into place right before the end. And then the end comes, and it turns out that not much of that information really mattered. There’s a moment of revelation, and you feel that rush overtake you, but it’s forgotten about by the ending which ignores this new information. (And if you’re wondering: Yes, the eventual meeting feels contrived.)
To not discredit the filmmaking, the pacing is superb, and there isn’t a moment where you aren’t feeling something while you watch it. This is an enjoyable story that is well-told. The aforementioned Meanwhile City looks incredible (especially given Franklyn‘s budget), and I would like to see a spin-off that explores it more. Actors are also solid, even if we despise certain characters. I wonder if a bigger ending was planned and cut due to budget concerns, as that’s this movie’s biggest (and really only) fault.
Franklyn is a good film that kept me involved. Even though the ending was a let-down, this is a film that you should watch, if only to see the incredible CGI city that was crafted with a rather modest budget. And while it takes a while to really get into, the plot ends up being very enjoyable to work through as well. We needed a stronger payoff, but for the most part, I really enjoyed Franklyn and would definitely recommend it.