Frailty (2001) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Matthew O'Leary, Powers Boothe
Director: Bill Paxton
Screenplay: Brent Hanley
Review published October 12, 2002
It's been a long time since Bill Paxton was a director of short films, and award-winning ones at that. Although he is mostly known as an actor, Paxton has apparently not lost any of the skills which may have lain dormant for over 15 years by the looks of his first big screen directorial stint, Frailty. He didn't start with an easy one either, as making such a far-fetched thriller fly requires a subtle touch and excellent characterizations, both qualities that he brings to bear without any appearance of awkwardness. It's a very tense and sometimes disturbing piece, but Paxton keeps the pace taut, and only in the end does it begin to come unglued. I can't fault him for that because the implausibility comes from the overreaching script by first-time screenwriter, Brent Hanley, and only Paxton's controlled approach keeps the plot from disintegrating into ridiculousness.
The film starts with Matthew McConaughey (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, The Wedding Planner) walking into the office of an FBI agent who has been assigned the "God's Hands" killer case. There are at least six suspected deaths attributed to the killer, and the Feds have been confounded at every turn, but now McConaughey reveals that he feels his brother is the killer they have been looking for. He relates a story about how his father (Paxton, U-571) believed he had a vision from God to destroy demons walking the Earth that look like ordinary people, receiving a list of names of those he should seek to remove from the living. Paxton and the two boys are called God's Hands because, according to Paxton, they are doing the Lord's work by ridding it of demons, although to his eldest boy, Fenton, Paxton has to be crazy and it's all some weird dream. The dream turns into a nightmare when Paxton begins bringing people home for "destruction."
The film Frailty most accurately resembles is The Usual Suspects, but as to whether or not it has a similar ending, I won't say either way, so as not to spoil things for those who've not seen it. I will say that the Hanley's story effectively draws you in, and keeps you guessing whether or not Paxton is truly having visions or just hallucinations, and also if McConaughey's version of events are accurate or complete hogwash. Still, Frailty mostly works because of the intriguing nature of the dark tale, as well as terrific performances by Paxton and the two Meeks boys, played by Matthew O'Leary (Spy Kids 2) and Jeremy Sumpter (Local Boys). Paxton has a great sense of detail, and certainly shows he knows how to build up a story.
The ending is perhaps the most problematic feature of Frailty, because it seems to stretch plausibility in many ways, and to a certain respect, has one too many contortions to it to try to digest and still make sense. But then again, there probably isn't any ending to the film that really wouldn't be farfetched in some form or fashion, the cinematic equivalent of being painted into a corner, so it would have been a miracle not to disappoint.
Frailty has very dark subject matter, and although it doesn't show anything graphic, it's definitely not for people who are turned off by gruesome tales of violence. For those who don't mind, it definitely holds your attention, written with intelligence and a good amount of style. It's a flawed but very effective piece of work from Paxton. Just remember not to talk to strangers with gardener's gloves on.
©2002 Vince Leo