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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Frailty

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton
Director: Bill Paxton
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: April 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Powers Boothe, Jeremy Sumpter, Matthew O'Leary

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Abraham received a vision from God to sacrifice his son Isaac, he became a statesman of biblical proportions by refusing to rebel against the order. When Joan of Arc received a vision from God to unite the French and drive out the English, she became one of the Western world's great heroes. Yet nowadays people who insist that they receive visions from God are labeled anything from the broad "insane" to the more specific "schizophrenic." Modern psychoanalysis has a lot to do with our current disbelief in visions, which is why we see the actions of the older Meiks, called simply Dad (Bill Paxton) in that actor's directorial debut, as not only psychotic but brutally homicidal. "Frailty," which gets its name from what the press notes call the "frailty of human perception" but which is more in line with that word's definition as "unable to resist temptation," is a Gothic tale, quite a scary one at points, and one which brings to mind the better stories of Stephen King, i.e. those tales which downplay the supernatural element in favor of focusing on the capacity of ordinary human beings for evil. (By way of contrast, just think of how unscary Paul Anderson's "Resident Evil" is laughable, in fact, because of the hackneyed armies of vampires that keep attacking Milla Jovovich's Alice and regularly get repelled. There's no humanity in them and therefore no fright for the audience.)

Like David Fincher's "Se7en" about a detective who falls into an investigation of a serial killer whose goal is to eliminate human beings who have committed the deadly sins Paxton's film deals with a perfectly ordinary guy from a small Texas town who treats his two kids lovingly, supporting them as an auto mechanic while the young ones go about their daily lives like choir boys. What makes this fellow particularly frightening to the audience is that when he turns into a serial killer, we wonder whether our next-door neighbor whom we trust to come up with casseroles for us every so often should be so readily trusted. When Dad receives a vision from God, called upon him to destroy, why, Dad does demons in Dallas. Lovingly instructing his 12 year old son Fenton Meiks (Matt O'Leary) and Fenton's kid brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) of his mission and his obligation to be a hatchet man, he divides the boys. The impressionable Fenton resists mightily while Adam is a chip off the old block.

The story of how first Dad and then Adam become killers is told in flashback as one of the Meiks brothers (Matthew McConaughey), now a great many years older, spills the beans to the local FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). Meiks convinces both the agent and us moviegoers of the reason he waited a long time to indict his sib and dad for serial slays, in effect giving great credit to Bill Paxton in his debut as a director and affirming Paxton as one of our finest actors. As Dad, Bill Paxton subtly plays both the nice guy-next-door and a murderer, never overdoing his role and, in fact, ignoring the modern convention of displaying victim's brains on the wall and blood spurting all over the killer's face. Both Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter are real finds as kids, O'Leary convincing us of his growing hostility toward his dad by incremental steps while Sumpter gives the perfect portrayal of the impressionable young mind.

The payoff during the concluding minutes is a doozy worthy of Stephen King, bringing together a drama of a coming of age from hell and an ambiguity about the nature of good and evil. "Frailty" is a powerful, psychological thriller, a Stephen-Esque sample of solid storytelling.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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