Frailty (2002), Cert 15.

Director - Bill Paxton.

Writer - Brent Hanley.

Starring - Bill Paxton, Mathew McConaughey & Powers Boothe.


Premise - Fenton Meekes (Mathew McConaughey) visits FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) in order to reveal the identity of the 'Gods Hand' killer. Doyle listens as Fenton tells him a tale of a single father (Bill Paxton) raising two sons. The father receives a message form God, he is to seek out demon's living amongst humans and destroy them. Could Fenton's story be real?

Frailty is Bill Paxton's debut as a director and it's a pretty solid effort, aside from some irritating issues later in the film it's as good a debut as he could have hoped for.

First up, Bill Paxton. As far as I am concerned, the man is a legend in the world of movies. He has brought to life some of my favourite characters from film history. Hudson from Aliens, Chet from Weird Science, Morgan Earp from Tombstone, Jerry from Predator 2 and the punk that gives Arnie his jacket in The Terminator. He's up there with Bruce Campbell in my eyes as far as genre supporting actors go. So, any film that this great man has touched (never mind directed) immediately has my attention.

Frailty is a really good film and it's somewhat fitting that Paxton's first film as a director should be a genre film. The tale of supernatural killing in the name of God (or is it?) is right up his alley. For a first time director he does well, working with the likes of Sam Raimi and James Cameron (a lot) over the years has clearly given the man a lot of experience in wielding the megaphone. It's a good looking film and Paxton uses the dark, oppressive look to build a suitable amount of tension throughout. The film is set almost entirely at night and Paxton makes good use of limited light and shadow to create a nice oppressive mood.

For me it's the building of tension and feeling of foreboding that really makes the film. Primarily in the flashback scenes as we see Paxton as the boy's father carrying out God's work (as he calls it). He loves his kids dearly and would seemingly never hurt them, but there is this aura around him. A feeling that at any moment, he could snap and ultimately be capable of anything. Paxton really comes into his own here as an actor. Rarely has he been the main star of a film, but here the weight of the acting duties lies squarely on his shoulders.

It's a responsibility that he carries off effortlessly. You just have to look into Paxton's eyes to see the love that he has for his children and also that he truly believes that he is carrying out the will of God. The pain is evident in his eyes when Fenton doesn't believe his cause, it hurts him deeply. I might even go as far to say that this is Paxton’s finest work as an actor (although there is strong competition from the likes of ‘A Simple Plan’ and ‘One False Move’).

I recently saw 'Amistad' and wondered what had happened to the hot, young actor that was Mathew McConaughey. He had lost his way of late, taking paydays in low rent fluff like 'Reign of Fire' and 'The Wedding Planner'. Well, I didn't have to look too hard; here he is, back in all his glory. Here, McConaughey has that thousand yard stare that you hear about in Vietnam films, the stare that you get after being in 'the shit'. He saw such horrible things as a child that now he seems to look through reality, as if he is distanced from everything else. McConaughey nails it and his subdued performance fits his part perfectly.

The two children who play the young sons (Mathew O'Leary & Jeremy Sumpter) are also superb. In the flashback scenes Paxton uses the most effective way to convey the horror of the killings. Rather than showing the bloody, gory detail, we instead see the reactions that the two sons have. Whether it's pride on the face of Adam or horror on the face of Fenton, both are a thousand times more powerful and affecting than splashing the gore about. Powers Boothe completes the main cast as the listening FBI agent. He has little to do aside from conveying a feeling of doubt, but he is solid enough and has some nice moments later in the film.

And it's later in the film where this potentially great film fumbles the pass and comes out being merely very good.

We might never know whether it's a result of Brent Hanley's script or via some developments from Bill Paxton, but in the final twenty minutes of the film we are treated to an un-needed Shyamalan style twist and a bucket load of exposition. Both of which serve to finally explain whether or not Fenton's dad was working for the big chief upstairs or not.

Personally in films of this type I like to leave a film with a certain amount of ambiguity in my mind. I would have far rather walked away from the film mulling over whether or not Paxton's character was crazy or not for myself, rather than having it spelled out for me. Some of the best films I have seen have had me thinking for days, sometimes weeks later about them, trying to figure little details out. To spell it all out robs me of that and ultimately harmed the film from where I was sitting.

I was watching the film and when McConaughey is standing with Otis in his hand and says, "God will protect me." that was it. I thought, fade to black, let the credits roll, end movie. When we then cut to the FBI office I was literally shouting at the TV, "No, no, NO!!! Just end, that was perfect!". Alas, it was not to be.

Maybe it's just me, maybe you like to have everything spelled out for you and explained, but I just felt that a potentially excellent movie was spoiled by not knowing when to say stop. I hate to end on a negative note as Frailty is a really good movie. A solid directorial debut from one of my favourite supporting players. It has a great feel and some stunning acting, there is indeed much to recommend, but I just felt cheated by the ending.



Poster Quote - Do you believe?