Frailty

on April 12, 2002 by Michael Tunison
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   With its able cast digging into a truly chilling subject--the psychological repercussions of a father-and-sons murder spree--“Frailty” clearly aims to be something more than a routine serial-killer horror tale. Unfortunately, actor Bill Paxton's uneven directorial debut fails to unlock the full potential of what is in many ways a fresh and dramatically substantial spin on the genre.

   The film opens with a framing device in which a Texas FBI agent (“Men of Honor's” Powers Boothe) working on the “God's Hands” serial killer case is visited by a haunted-looking young man (Matthew McConaughey) who claims to be the brother of the murderer. As McConaughey's character fills in the details, the story flashes back a couple of decades to relate how his humble widower father (Paxton) got it into his head that God had given him and his two adolescent sons a mission to find and destroy “demons” posing as ordinary people. In a series of increasingly grisly incidents, Dad instructs the boys on identifying and slaying these evil ones, a pursuit the independent-minded elder son (“Domestic Disturbance's” Matt O'Leary) considers insane but feels powerless to stop.

   While Paxton gives one of his strongest performances ever as a self-styled holy “superhero” who loves his boys deeply and wants them to follow what he sees as the path of righteousness, his rather stiff staging of Brent Hanley's script is “Frailty's” main weakness. The director/star's plain, stripped-down style is effective enough in the well-conceived series of confrontations between himself and the wonderfully natural O'Leary, but such moments are oddly contrasted by far less convincing sections, particularly in the somewhat melodramatic framing scenes featuring McConaughey. A head-spinning final twist allows the film to go out with a memorable bang, but it comes a little too late to help “Frailty” succeed on the ambitious terms it has set for itself. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter. Directed by Bill Paxton. Written by Brent Hanley. Produced by David Kirschner, David Blocker and Corey Sienega. A Lions Gate release. Thriller. Rated R for violence and some language. Running time: 99 min

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