04
Jan
15

Frailty (2001)

frailtyposterFor a long time, I’d been hearing really good things about Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty. Naturally, I was skeptical: I’d only just recently admitted to myself that I like watching Paxton in action. Specifically, his turn in Near Dark delighted me to no end, and I finally had to come to terms with the fact that he is an enjoyable, if ridiculous, force on screen. After the endorsement of several folks, all of whom have opinions we normally respect, we decided to take a gamble. While I don’t necessarily regret it, I will say that a movie hasn’t inspired such passionate anger in me since that piece-of-shit Godzilla remake.

First things first: I can’t account for my disgust without revealing the film’s secrets. So, if you are stuck in the late 90’s/early aughts and still obsessed with plot twists, read no further. To the rest of you, it should already raise a red flag that the success of Frailty completely hinges upon its twist(ed) ending.

Now, let’s see if I can sum this shit up. Fenton Mieks (Matthew McConaughey) appears uninvited at his local FBI office. He’s looking for Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe), the detective searching for the “God’s Hand” serial killer. Fenton insists he knows, quite intimately, who the killer is. Doyle is skeptical, but with leads having run dry long ago, he has no choice but to hear him out. Long story short, when Fenton and his younger brother Adam were growing up, his widower dad (Bill Paxton) woke up in the middle of the night with a vision from God telling him it was his family’s job to kill sinners. The light of the lord bequeaths upon him a list of sinners by name and a few instruments with which to catch and kill them. Dad wastes no time getting the great cull started, and when he brings the first victim home, Fenton is horrified.  He is pretty sure his father has lost his shit completely. Young Adam is too little to know who’s right, and is more inclined to believe his father knows what he’s doing when he takes his hatchet to harlots and heretics.

We're a happy family, we're a happy family, we're a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

We’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

When Fenton decries his father’s actions and opts not to help murder people, dear old dad says the vision of God has told him that he should be next on the chopping block. But I guess he doesn’t quite have the strength of Abraham, and instead just has Fenton dig a giant hole in the ground that eventually will be his home for two or three weeks; just long enough until he sees the light of God, of course. Adam is allowed to give his brother one glass of water a day, but no food. I guess hunger can cause visions, right? So Fenton says he saw the light and is allowed out, and, you know, to eat and stuff, so that’s kind of nice. He still balks when his dad hands him the axe, though. Instead of whacking a sinner’s head off, he intentionally misses and sinks the blade into his father’s belly.

At this point Agent Doyle is  thinking ‘boy howdy, that’s quite a story, but them pieces don’t fit together.’ Fenton insists his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, carrying out the work started by daddy all those years ago. Doyle wants some sort of proof, and for whatever reason agrees to go to the plot of land where Fenton says all the bodies are buried. Finally, the two are alone and Fenton can reveal the truth: he’s not Fenton at all! He’s actually Adam! And his dad wasn’t crazy, he really did get a list of sinner’s names from the almighty lord and has carte blanche to murder

It's hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it's done to Paxton's forehead.

It’s hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it’s done to Paxton’s forehead.

them all! Even more twisty, Agent Doyle is just such a sinner and his end is imminent! OH MY (literal) GOOOOOODD!

Seriously? Seriously. How is this movie not an endorsement for religious zealotry? What. The. Fuck. At first I was thinking to myself: oh, okay, I get it; this movie’s going to say something interesting about religious fanaticism! BUT THE EXACT OPPOSITE HAPPENED! I am pretty sure I seethed and fumed about the irresponsibility of such an ending for entire days after I’d watched this. Aren’t we taking the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing a little too fucking literally here? The worst part of it is, after watching the special features on the disc it seems painfully clear that Paxton and writer Brent Hanley don’t seem bothered by this shit in the slightest. It’s almost as if the implications of their supposedly masterful twist ending didn’t concern either of them; they only wanted to make the audience gasp. And, I guess the second worst part is, it fucking worked. How is it possible that normal people are not bothered by the meaning behind this creepy-ass, evangelical ending?

McConaughey plots his next move...

McConaughey plots his next move…

While its politics absolutely disgust me, the truth is the film is not a bad piece of work, technically speaking. Paxton seems to know what he’s doing behind the camera, even if he can’t entirely pull off the devout dad role. He’s not the only one who seems to have trouble with his acting; McConaughey is no prince in this either. He’s not terrible, but after just watching (and loving) True Detective it’s pretty clear to see just how much he’s grown as an actor. And speaking of True Detective, I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities between the two. Not to throw gas into the plagiarism fire plaguing writer Nic Pizzolatto, but there is a bit here that makes me wonder. Aside from the obvious McConaughey link, both pieces of work take place, in large part, in an office of the law. Both pieces center around a man, played by McConaughey, retelling a story in which he may or may not be suspected of committing serious crimes. Both have a weird Southern Gothic spiritualism thing going on, but thankfully True Detective‘s ending, while perhaps ultimately disappointing, was benign.

Anyway, whatever. This movie sucks. It’s irresponsible, reprehensible, and lazy. And, despite what Paxton and Hanley would have you believe, murder is not okay.

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