Warning: While this review does not contain spoilers, the cast/character list alone on IMDb does. If you're planning on watching this, I'd suggest avoiding its page.
Man, talk about a movie that will leave you thinking. I love it when I come across movies like this--ones that very few people have heard of, but more people should really see. I guess that's why I do this type of review, huh? This film is a split narrative, giving us 4 seemingly unconnected stories. First we're introduced to Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe), a young man in a futuristic dystopian city called Meanwhile City. In this town, every individual belongs to a religion--except Preest, the lone atheist. Preest acts as detective and vigilante to take vengeance on a man called The Individual who is responsible for killing a pre-teen girl he was supposed to protect. The other 3 narratives of this film, however, take place is modern day London. Next is Milo (Sam Riley), another young man whose fiance decides to leave him right before their wedding, and now he tries to reconnect with an old flame. Third is Emilia (Eva Green), a depressed artist whose newest project deals with her recording her various attempts at suicide, erstwhile dealing with her uncaring mother. Finally, we're given Peter (Bernard Hill), a man who is out looking for his lost son.
Franklyn is the type of movie for your Donnie Darko and Stay crowd (which is ironic, since Ewan McGregor was originally attached for Phillippe's role--now that would have been interesting. Also of note, Paul Bettany and John Hurt were also originally cast as the two other characters but had to pull out. The only original cast member to stay was Eva Green). Anyway, back on point. This movie will mess with your head in a couple ways. First and foremost, you will wonder what any of the four stories have to do with each other. Then you'll wonder if the movie is going anywhere. Then you reach the third act, and that's when the film punches you in the face.
It's a movie that makes no sense and absolutely perfect sense. Reading up on it afterward, there are three types of people who watch this movie. There are those that watch it and don't understand it whatsoever. Then there are those who watch it and understand it just fine and have no idea why everyone else is having trouble understanding it; however, they just get it on a surface level, able to put the basic clues together and just say what was happening with the film's story. Finally, there are those who attempt to dive deeper, to take the movie apart and try to put it back together, wondering what every little thing meant--what each character symbolized, if certain characters were even real or not, what the themes of the film were, who the *beep* is Franklyn, etc. You can put me in that last group, because while I (think I) understood it on the surface level, there is just so much more to this film than that.
It's a film that explores living with or without faith--in any kind of way. Is it justifiable to be atheist? Does having faith make life easier? Does having too much religion cause more harm than good? It's also a film that explores the boundaries of mental health, and how one brings oneself to survive and cope when everything about you is fighting back hard. And then, eventually, there's a question of fate and, if there is a God, does He make it so everything truly happens for a reason? Is there always order in chaos?
At the heart of this movie are its four stories. Unfortunately, this is also the biggest negative of the film. As I said earlier, you have no idea how these stories connect or where this movie is going for probably the first hour. The fourth story (the dad looking for his son) doesn't come into play for a while, either, and it's a bit jolting when you all of a sudden have another storyline to follow that doesn't seem to fit anywhere. Of course, the best and most intriguing of the stories is the one that doesn't fit the most--the dystopian future. I would have watched an entire movie based on that one scenario alone. Don't get me wrong, the other stories are interesting (and they certainly end up taking you in a direction I can assure you that you probably didn't see coming). But the movie itself plays to one of the themes of its characters--order in chaos. When everything doesn't seem to connect for the bulk of the time, and then you end up with--well--what you end up with, it gives you a journey that might just be more about the destination than the journey itself. Some people will like that. Some won't.
Fortunately, everything else is there to keep you glued. The acting is great on all fronts, particularly Eva Green (who is gorgeous). Ryan Phillippe is kind of a Rorschach character, though thankfully he doesn't try to aim for the gravel in his tone. There's a little there, but it's nowhere close to, say, Bale's Batman. On top of that, this movie is gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is beautiful, and there are some sharp contrasts between dark and bright colors (though not too bright) that are played with at times (particularly reds and greens). Yet at the same time, it has a gloomy feel. It's a hard look to describe, but it works well.
I'd definitely recommend checking this one out (it is currently on Instant Streaming). It's a movie that makes you think about not only what's going on, but about its deeper meanings. If you do watch it, my one bit of advice is to stick it out. You might at times start questioning what the point is, but it all eventually comes together--so stick it out. I think it's very much worth it. I definitely need to check it out again. I think it's gonna be one of those I like even more the more I watch it.