Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Matt O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Powers Boothe
Rated R for Violence and Some Language
One of my hobbies is to go on the American Family Association's Facebook page and get into spirited debates about certain issues. Usually regarding Target's policy of allowing transpeople use the bathroom that they identify with, although they support any right-wing cause. As hilarious as the banter sometimes gets, it's sometimes very scary. The blind faith of some of these individuals in the face of logic or the realities of our legal system, or even the hypocrisy that they are unable to see. Traits like that from religion can take people down a very dark path. "Frailty" is about one such individual.
A man named Fenton Meiks (McConaughey) has arrived at the office of FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Boothe). Doyle is heading the investigation into the notorious God's Hand serial killer, and Fenton claims that the killer is his brother Adam. To explain how he knows this, Fenton tells a disturbing story.
In the summer of 1979, Fenton (O'Leary) grew up in small town Texas with his father (Paxton) and younger brother Adam (Sumpter). Their mother died giving birth to Adam and they have no other surviving relatives, but they get by. Dad loves his sons more than anything and they love and respect him in turn. One night, Dad wakes them up, claiming that he was visited by an angel who tasked them with destroying demons who take human form. Adam is enthusiastic but Fenton is incredulous. It's too difficult to swallow. Fenton believes that this is all a nightmare that will pass, but then Dad brings home the first body. More will follow, and Fenton has to find a way to stop the bloodshed. But that means convincing Adam, and worse, confronting his father.
"Frailty" was marketed as some sort of supernatural slasher movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Physically, this isn't a violent movie. Most of the violence occurs off screen, and there's very little gore. Psychologically, well, that's a different story. Watching a young boy face the reality that his father is a delusional killer is a brutal blow to the psyche. Even worse, he has a younger brother who is too easily manipulated.
Paxton's character is not a traditional villain, and that is what makes this film so disturbing. He's kind, loving and affectionate towards his children. In all other respects, he's a good man. But his delusions, if they are that, have turned this gentle soul into a murderous zealot. It would be difficult for anyone to accept, much less live through. To ask that of a pre-teen is heartbreaking. How would you react? It would be hard enough if it was your neighbor or a psychopath down the street, but that it is his father, whom he loves dearly, makes things much more complicated. It would have been too easy for Paxton to take the easy road and make a slasher film, but he goes the extra mile. He makes this about the situation, and the toll it takes on his children.
The performances are strong across the board. Matthew McConaughey lends his low-key personality to the story, ably portraying a man who is dealing with a lifetime of guilt. Powers Boothe appears in what is essentially a plot device, but his character is meant to be a voice for the audience and nothing more. He fulfills the need and that's all that's required of him.
As you might expect, the majority of the film is spent in 1979, with Paxton, O'Leary, and Sumpter taking up the majority of the screen time. All are effective, but special mention has to go to Matt O'Leary, who is excellent as the morally conflicted, emotionally traumatized Fenton. He carries a weight that no one should have to carry and ably handles the complexities of the role.
The opening scenes with Fenton and Doyle are a little rough, since they know things that we don't, or rely on assumptions that we can't make. But they're not bad. The problem is with the ending. Paxton overplays his hand when it comes to the ambiguity of whether or not any of this is real, but never more so than in the end, which spells out exactly what happens. This is necessary for the twist ending to work, but it feels like a cheat. A more honest approach would have been better. The writing during these scenes is a little sloppy too, so it's got that going against it as well.
"Frailty" is not for everyone. It's very disturbing and not for younger viewers. I imagine a few people will be turned off by the trauma that these young boys have to go through. I can understand their sentiments, but Paxton is unrepentant. He takes no prisoners and makes no concessions. I applaud him for that. Had he done so, the film wouldn't have been as effective as it is.
Regardless, if you do see it, you will not forget it.