Movie Reviews
10:12 am
Wed March 27, 2002

Frailty

Why do fundamentalists and zealots sometimes resort to murder to carry out "the will of God"? ...

Why do fundamentalists and zealots sometimes resort to murder to carry out "the will of God?" Surely "9/11" made us revisit this troublesome irony, and "Frailty" makes us pause again. Dad, played by Bill Paxton, turns his sons into executioners as he responds to a list of "demons" handed him by the divine presence in a vision. The powerful influence of parents over children is one of the film's themes; the corruption of holy intentions by fanatics is another; the challenge of stopping people like this is a third. Provocative are all these ideas.

Actor Bill Paxton, directing his first film, shows his "Simple Plan" roots: these are working folks moved by ideas far beyond their limited reasoning powers and unable to overcome the Darwinian impulse to expunge the unfit. Unfortunately his film is so predictable, every outcome is telegraphed long before it happens, that suspense is never a factor. The twists at the end are not surprising.

In his favor, Paxton spares us the gory visuals (We never see the moment the axe strikes the victims) and answers almost all plot-related questions.

Although Paxton's Dad is dense and simple-minded, Matthew McConaughey, as one of the grownup sons, is complicated and cunning -- a round character suiting McConaughey's considerable acting talents. Powers Booth as the laconic, tough FBI agent reminds me how striking his Jim Jones portrayal was over 20 years ago. His face is even more interesting now with its craters and creases, and his sneer is every bit as cinematic as Jack Nicholson's. The young sons are clean-cut American, adding to the nagging irony of seemingly normal people quietly engaged in horrible acts.

The film intriguingly suggests someone has to do the job of avenging angel. Such a philosophy should strike fear in the hearts of terrorists and the enormous number of good worshipers as well. Just be careful when you answer that doorbell -— it may toll for thee.