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Bill Paxton
Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Luke Askew
Brent Hanley

No Soul Is Safe
Box Office:
Budget $11 million.
Opening weekend $4.208 million on 1497 screens.
Domestic gross $13.103 million.
Rated R for violence and some language.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 9/17/2002

• Audio Commentary With Actor/Director Bill Paxton
• Audio Commentary With Writer Brent Hanley
• Audio Commentary With Producer David Kirschner, Editor Arnold Glassman, and Composer Brian Tyler
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of Frailty Featurette
• “Anatomy of a Scene” Featurette
• Storyboards
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer

Score soundtrack

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Frailty (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Frailty finds Bill Paxton a long way from the comic goofiness of Hudson in Aliens. Of course, I don’t intend that as a slam on the James Cameron classic, as it remains possibly my favorite film, but the Paxton on display in Frailty may come as a shock to those better acquainted with his lighter characters like Hudson or Bill Harding from Twister.

Also directed by Paxton, Frailty focuses on series of serial killings known as the “God’s Hand” murders. At the start of the film, Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) chats with Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), the FBI agent in charge of the case. He states that his brother Adam (Levi Kreis) caused the killings and then relates a flashback story of their childhood in 1979.

There we see younger versions of Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) and their Dad (Paxton). Their lives seem pretty normal until one day Dad claims an angel visited him and commanded him to fight demons with “magical weapons”. Eventually the angel returns and provides Dad with a list of seven local demons to slay. Dad follows through with this plan, much to the dismay of Fenton, who tries his best to halt the killings.

Most of the film follows those interactions. The modern-day segments with McConaughey and Boothe fill only a little of the screen time, as we mainly watch what happened back in 1979. Anyone who pursues Frailty because they saw McConaughey’s picture on the cover may leave disappointed.

Otherwise, Frailty offers a fairly engaging little neo-horror flick. Paxton’s directorial debut, he falls into a few traps along the way, but he maintains a nice sense of evenness for the most part. One cool aspect of Frailty stems from its objective nature. Paxton plays Dad with a level of sympathy and compassion one wouldn’t expect. I thought he’d come across as a raving nutbag, but Paxton turns the character into a pained but resolute personality.

That keeps the story from turning into a cliché, and it makes matters much more compelling. Told from Fenton’s point of view, clearly with empathize with his view of things, but the movie never turns the other characters into monsters or one-sided personalities. This allows the film to succeed more fully than if it went for a more blatant approach.

It also means that the movie’s many twists fit in more neatly. I won’t go into all of them, but suffice it to say that Frailty packs many turns during its last act. Actually, I regard that as one of the flick’s flaws. It spins things around a little too violently during the climax, and the twists start to feel gratuitous.

Nonetheless, Frailty succeeds more than it falters. The movie provides a fairly engaging and lively gothic horror tale that benefits from some surprisingly nuanced performances. Bill Paxton makes his directorial debut with a flawed but generally winning piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio B / Bonus A-

Frailty appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While generally adequate, the picture seemed a bit weak compared to most modern films.

Sharpness seemed decent for the most part, but it rarely excelled. The image appeared fairly distinct and detailed, but it also showed moderate softness at times. The picture never became badly fuzzy; it just didn’t deliver the expected clarity. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, but I did notice some light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, I detected a little grain, some specks and bits of grit, but those never became too heavy. Still, they seemed a bit excessive for such a recent movie.

Colors generally appeared solid. At times they seemed somewhat oversaturated, but partially that resulted from stylistic decisions. Mostly I felt that the hues came across as acceptably vivid and distinct. Black levels tended to look a little pale and inky, while shadow detail tended to seem somewhat flat and thick. Low-light situations appeared a bit washed-out and thin. Overall, the image of Frailty remained acceptable, but it seemed more problematic than I expected for such a recent film.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Frailty didn’t excel, but it worked pretty well across the board. The mix featured a fairly heavy emphasis on the forward speakers. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging, while effects showed nice general atmosphere throughout the film. Elements meshed together neatly and smoothly, and the surrounds kicked in some useful information at times. For the most part, this also remained in the domain of ambience, bt some more distinct sounds came from the rears, and they added a good layer of presence to the track.

Audio quality appeared positive. Dialogue sounded natural and warm, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music seemed bright and dynamic, and the score showed good low-end response. Effects also came across as accurate and distinctive. They lacked distortion and they packed a reasonable punch when appropriate; bass levels seemed tight and deep. Overall, the soundtrack of Frailty fell to “B”-level simply because it didn’t sport a lot of ambition, but it provided a consistently satisfying piece of work.

This DVD release of Frailty features a nice roster of supplements. Most significantly, it includes a whopping three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from actor/director Bill Paxton, who offers a running, screen-specific affair. And a very chatty one at that, as Paxton rarely comes up for air. On the slightly negative side, Paxton periodically just describes the on-screen action, and he also too frequently tells us how great everyone is. Despite those minor issues, though, Paxton offers lots of good insight into the project and the production. He gives us a nice overview of things, tells us what he wanted to do, discusses inspirations and influences, goes over working with the cast, and touches upon quite a few other subjects as well. Paxton proves to be a lively and engaging speaker, and this commentary should add to your appreciation of the film.

Next we hear from writer Brent Hanley, who also offers a running, screen-specific track. Unlike Paxton, Hanley occasionally sags during his commentary; a few empty spots appear, though not very many. He also tends to provide a little too much praise, but otherwise, he gives us another solid discussion of the film. Inevitably, he occasionally touches on material already covered by Paxton, but he focuses more on his personal influences for parts of the film and he also goes over the ways in which the film differs from his script. Overall, Hanley seems engaging as he provides a lot of interesting and useful material.

One very unusual aspect of Hanley’s commentary relates to his attitude toward the flick. Most filmmakers encourage an ambiguous interpretation of their work; for example, Quentin Tarantino refuses to offer any clue in regard to the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Hanley, on the other hand, totally dispels any notions of uncertainty; he tells us exactly what to think about the material. I found his openness to feel refreshing.

Finally, we discover a “production commentary” from editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner, and composer Brian Tyler, all of whom also were recorded together for their running, screen-specific track. This seemed like the weakest of the three, though some of the concerns occurred through no fault of the participants. Inevitably, they repeated a moderate amount of information heard elsewhere, and I can’t complain about that.

However, I found the commentary to seem somewhat flat even without that issue. Glassman and Tyler provided basic remarks about the decisions they made for Frailty, while Kirschner tossed in some basic production notes. The information usually seemed fairly superficial - such as the names of music cues from Tyler - and too much of the commentary focused on praise for both the film and the participants. Admittedly, this piece would have appeared more interesting had I listened to it first instead of last, but it still felt like a very mediocre commentary.

Next we find The Making of Frailty, a 19-minute and 29-second documentary. It combines the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes material, and interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from director/actor Bill Paxton, writer Brent Hanley, producers David Kirschner and David Blocker, director of photography Bill Butler, editor Arnold Glassman, and actors Matthew McConaughey, Jeremy Sumpter, and Matt O’Leary. The interviews add some very good information about the movie; from comments about the cinematography to the casting to the editing, we get a good look at the creation of the flick.

However, while those moments are good, the best parts of the DVD show shots from the set. The piece includes a lot of fascinating glimpses behind the scenes, and it really helps enhance the experience. We see how Paxton combined his two jobs and get some fun spontaneous moments as well. Though too brief to be an excellent documentary, this one offers a lot of solid material.

From the Sundance Channel, Anatomy of a Scene offers another examination of Frailty. The 25-minute and 54-minute show uses the same format as the prior program, though it focuses on one specific scene in Frailty: the one in which Fenton and Agent Doyle drive out to the rose garden. We hear comments from Paxton, Glassman, Butler, McConaughey, Hanley, composer Brian Tyler, actor Powers Boothe, production designer Kevin Cozen, and first assistant director Jim Sbardelatti

While I enjoyed the “Making of” show to a greater degree, “Anatomy” includes a higher percentage of useful information. The participants thoroughly cover the scene in question and provide a lot of terrific details. It seems less fun than the earlier program, but it manages to really dig into its subject nicely.

After this we see a collection of Deleted Scenes. We get four of these, and they run a total of eight minutes and 32 seconds. The clips actually include some interesting material, especially the piece in which Fenton studies the Bible to refute Dad’s mission. The deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Paxton. He always tells us why the clips didn’t make the final film, and he also provides some other useful tidbits.

A few other small bits round out the DVD. We get the film’s trailer, presented fullscreen along with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. A photo gallery provides 40 stillframe images. These cover a mix of production shots, scenes from the film, and candid snaps. Finally, the Storyboards domain covers three different scenes: “Magic Weapons” (13 screens), “The Angel” (15), and “The Sheriff” (12).

One unexpected nice touch: except for the trailer, all of the video extras include both English and Spanish subtitles. Of the major studios, only Paramount consistently provides text with their supplements, so it’s good to see someone else do it as well.

While not a classic, Frailty offered a better than average little horror flick. Definitely not part of the “slasher” genre, the film took a more internal approach as it presented some very compelling topics. It didn’t always fire on all cylinders, but the movie generally came across as lively and intriguing. The DVD offered mediocre picture with very good sound and an excellent roster of extras highlighted by some terrific and entertaining audio commentaries. Frailty seemed far too dark to work for a mass audience, but fans of the genre should give it a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1428 Stars Number of Votes: 42
7 3:
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