In Meanwhile City, assassin Preest (Phillippe) stalks a murderous cult leader known as The Individual. In London, Milo (Riley) looks up his childhood sweetheart; Emilia (Green) stages suicide attempts as an art project; and Peter (Hill) looks for his son. The two worlds are fated to collide.
This shuffles together a fantastical, comic-bookish vision of life in a strange world dominated by bizarre cults with plot-strands which take place in a recognisable present-day London — though, as it happens, the magical elements are not confined to the obviously stylised Burton-cum-Gilliam scenes, and colour the prosaic reality with quiet wonders and horrors.
A first feature from British writer-director Gerald McMorrow, Franklyn offers a braided set of overlapping storylines which pay off in a satisfying knot that resolves the question of what, and who, is real and what is imaginary without dispelling the supernatural. It’s not the sort of film to go to if — like the archetypal Pasadena preview audiences — you need to know what exactly is happening exactly as it happens.
This doesn’t so much tell you a story as give you a selection of jigsaw pieces at random — trusting you to fit them into a coherent picture by the payoff. Why does Eva Green play both the jittery Goth suicide girl Emilia and Sam Riley’s red-headed childhood sweetheart, Sally? And why in different worlds do Ryan Phillippe’s masked graphic novel-look vigilante Preest and Bernard Hill’s glumly plodding concerned father grieve for girls who have the same face? You’ll have to pay attention to find out. Even the title is at once a vital puzzle-piece and a sly irrelevance — Franklyn features as much here as Brazil does in Terry Gilliam’s film.
It’s not a flawless picture — some of the fantasy action suffers from wobbly choreography, and the backstory traumas which have warped the characters all turn out to be disappointingly textbook plot devices. However, it’s cannily cast and well acted, with Phillippe — who spends much of his time in a creepy existentialist psycho superhero mask — genuinely out of this world as the only unbeliever in a city of grotesque fanatics; while Green and Riley compound the reputations they made with Casino Royale and Control by delivering nuanced, subtly cracked performances as Londoners who are ultimately just as out of it as the swarming citizens of Meanwhile City.
An admirably non-formulaic drama, which manages to reconcile the opposed British film traditions of contemporary, realistic, low-key character drama with eccentric, flamboyant, Gothic fantasy. It certainly marks out McMorrow as a talent to watch.