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review added: 9/19/02



Frailty
2002 (2002) - Lion's Gate Entertainment

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Frailty

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/A

Specs and Features

99 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:11:35 in chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (by director/actor Bill Paxton), audio commentary (by editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner and composer Brian Tyler), audio commentary (by writer Brent Hanley), Sundance Channel Anatomy of a Scene feature, "making of" feature, 4 deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), 3 storyboard sequences, photo gallery, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned


"Only demons should fear me. And you're not a demon, are you?"

The villainous religious zealot as fuel for storytelling is nothing new. It's been done countless times in both film and novel form, but there's something unsettling about seeing this fanatic from the perspective of a child. Maybe it's a notion as basic as innocence tainted by evil, but when done well, that premise can be especially frightening. Frailty, the directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton explores that theme through the story of a father and his two sons, Fenton (Matt O'Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter). It's a disturbing film and a real achievement for Paxton. It frightened me like no other film I've seen since Silence of the Lambs.

The film opens as adult Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) tells his story to FBI Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe). Agent Doyle is on the case of the God's Hand Killer, and Fenton says he has the information the agent needs to catch the killer. His reason for doing so is simply to clear his conscience. As he talks to Doyle, the story flashes back to 1979. Paxton's character (known only as Dad) is a widower, and he lives with his two sons in the small Texas town of Tyler. Dad awakens his sons one night to tell them that he received a message from God: rid the world of seven demons with the help of his children. In one of the more stunning sequences of Frailty, Dad's second vision comes while underneath the body of a car. As he stares off into the belly of the car, it transforms into the ceiling of a mammoth cathedral and reveals an angel that delivers to him the names of the first set of demons. With the names in hand, Dad sets out to do God's work. To reveal anything more of the plot would be unfair. It's a film that's full of surprises and an unrelenting sense of dread.

What Frailty does right, is what so many other films of the same vein do wrong - it knows that implication is sometimes stronger than blatant imagery or explanation. As Dad and his sons take on the demons, you'll see very little onscreen violence, but the audio cues and the dialogue will lead you to believe otherwise. Through every little bend in the narrative arc, Frailty plays up the suspense of the material and remains absorbing on many levels. If it were JUST a crime story or a southern gothic horror film, it could still be a good movie, but I don't know that it could be a great film. At its conclusion, it provides a finite answer to whether or not Dad is crazy or if he's actually doing God's work, but that doesn't make repeat viewings (which are crucial to the DVD consumer) any less satisfying. On my second viewing, I was able to appreciate the dark humor written in the material that I was not at first able to see. Screenwriter Hanley also keeps the story alive by playing up the tension between father and sons, agent and suspect, faith and disbelief. It's these human elements of a fantastic story that make the movie more believable.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is a satisfactory representation of the theatrical exhibition of Frailty. Colors are vivid, with only a hint of oversaturation, and are complimented by a pure, stable black level. Amber tones are used liberally in portions of the film to give a somewhat aged look to the film, and these come across quite nicely in the transfer. Edge enhancement and compression artifacts are not an issue, though there is some slight grain (attributed to the film stock) evident in a few shots. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the sole audio option. It's a strong but low-key mix that maintains a steady balance between effects and the music track. Brian Tyler's sometimes jarring score comes into play during some of the key moments in the film, and it sounds robust through the rear portion of the sound field. Bass is active though not overpowering, and there's enough movement across the right and left channels to create a sense of space that doesn't feel forced or artificial.

I don't know that Lion's Gate Entertainment has issued a DVD that was actually labeled as a special edition, but Frailty comes fully loaded with extras. There are three screen-specific audio commentaries. The best of the trio is undoubtedly Paxton's commentary. He talks nearly non-stop from the moment the first image appears onscreen, and his comments are filled with technical and anecdotal information about the film. Above all else, he comes off as a studied student of film, and is quick to reference influences on his work as a first-time director. His is one of the best commentaries I've listened to in a very long time. The Kirschner/Glassman/Tyler commentary is also good, and they're each able to provide insight into different aspects of the film without overrunning each other's comments. Writer Hanley's track is a good listen as well, though the addition of another crew or cast member would have done him some good. By the third commentary track you've already covered a lot of ground, and on his own, Hanley doesn't have a whole lot more to add that hasn't already been said in the previous commentaries.

Always a welcome addition to DVD, the 25-minute Sundance Channel Anatomy of a Scene takes a thorough and revealing look at one of the key sequences in the film: Agent Doyle's car trip with the McConaughey character to the rose garden. As is common with this feature, all aspects of the scene are dissected, and you'll hear from just about everyone involved in the production. DVD is often termed "film school on a disc," and the Sundance Channel feature is a prime example of that. The additional 20-minute "making of" feature is interesting, if only to see how much fun can be had while making a movie as dark as Frailty is. This is a showcase for Paxton's talent both in front of and behind the camera. The ease with which Paxton flip-flops back and forth between director and actor speaks of his talent as a filmmaker.

In addition to all that, there are approximately 8 minutes of deleted scenes. Good suspense requires excellent timing, and ultimately, these scenes would have dragged the pace of the movie. Of these scenes, the first one (which details young Fenton's try at using his own knowledge of the Bible to combat his dad's wishes) is the one most worth seeing. Paxton says in the commentary that he relied heavily on storyboards for the film, and you can find three sequences of storyboarded scenes as supplements to the disc. Lastly, there's a photo gallery of approximately 40 behind-the-scenes shots and publicity stills. My only complaint feature-wise is the lack of an insert to the DVD. This is typical of Lion's Gate releases, but a little artwork on the inside of an otherwise barren case would do the packaging some good.

Frailty is one of the best films of 2002, and I have a strong feeling that it will find the audience on DVD that its limited theatrical release and tepid audience response denied it. The disc supplements are highly recommended, with the one caveat being that you peruse them only AFTER you've seen the movie. Frailty is a film that's best enjoyed with the house lights dimmed low and with as little previous knowledge of the film as possible.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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