Reviewed by: Gator MacReady

Bill Paxton really ought to be more famous. Every film buff knows his name, but he needs more leading roles and less time as a support actor. Frailty is his first venture behind the camera and hopefully not the last.

Religious thrillers are hard to pull off. The Ninth Gate and End Of Days were hardly what one would consider powerful movies. Instead of being driven by effects and action, Frailty holds your attention with utter disbelief. You can accept what is happening, but do you want to?

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Matthew McConaughey tells FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) a nasty little story of how his dad (Bill Paxton) killed several innocent people back in 1979. His dad believed he was destroying demons, doing God's work. Obviously, it's hard to swallow for the characters and the audience. We share the same sense of unease and tension they do.

Dad - his name is never divulged - has a vision of an angel, telling him that he has to slay seven demons and he will be shown the tools he must use to do it. A glorious shower of sunlight pours from the heavens onto a rickety old barn. In there, he finds a huge axe called Otis and a pair of gloves. This is where we start doubting, but Dad is convinced. And he enlists his kids to help him.

The oldest is 10-year-old Fenton (Matthew O'Leary), a little wiser and more clued-up than the average kid his age. Younger brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) is about eight and very naive. He totally believes Dad when he talks of Judgment Day and God talking to him.

Fenton dismisses this as mental illness and prays that his father is having a brief delusional episode, until the night he brings home a bound and gagged young woman, whom he murders with Otis while his children watch. It's gruesome and the sound effects are too realistic for comfort.

The narrative shifts back and forth between 1979 and present day, building towards a powerful and clever finish. Not since Arlington Road has there been an ending like this.

Paxton has obviously learned how to make good movies from past directors, such as James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. The film is a perfect vehicle for him on so many levels and the dark atmosphere and overall creepiness of Frailty goes hand in hand with its source material.

The script, originally called God's Hands, leads us into the mind of a religious fanatic, who will do anything God requires - a perfect allusion to a world full of suicide bombers and brainwashed terrorists. It may seem like evil to us, but to those who commit such appaling acts, it's the work of a higher power. Who's to say what is right and what is wrong?

Watch. And wince. Frailty delivers strong performances from an excellent cast and Paxton proves he is worth as much behind the camera as he is in front.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2002
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Bill Paxton’s kids think he’s gone nutzo in religious thriller about a serial axe murderer.
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Jennie Kermode **

Director: Bill Paxton

Writer: Brent Hanley

Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Luke Askew

Year: 2001

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


EIFF 2002

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