RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2015
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
DIRECTOR: Paul McGuigan
MPAA RATING: PG-13 (for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction)
SCREENWRITER: Max Landis
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox
GENRE: Drama, Thriller, Horror
Review by David S. Dawson
Director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) delivers Victor Frankenstein, a loud and confounding re-imagining of the classic Frankenstein tale. The film tells the tale of Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and his monster through the eyes of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). It’s a narrative that feels inspired by the narrative construct of Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, the relationship here between Frankenstein and Igor has the same mentor lording over his mentee feeling.
Radcliffe brings a lovely humanity to the character of Igor whom we find living in the circus at the beginning of the film. He is a hunchback who has found his place in the world as a circus clown. In the circus he has found a family, an abusive and violent family, but one that has accepted his deformity and allowed him to find a purpose in the world. He has spent his free time in the circus learning human anatomy and has become the medical caretaker of his adopted family. Radcliffe manages to convey a layered and complicated performance with Igor, he’s both a natural genius and a woefully abused and mistreated human being who has been raised to believe that there is no worth to his existence. Radcliffe’s physical performance throughout the film does an amazing job of informing us of Igor’s changing views of himself.
Victor Frankenstein encounters Igor a the circus after a fall from the trapeze puts Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), Igor’s love interest, in mortal danger. With Frankenstein assisting, and observing the oddity of the circus clown doctor, Igor quickly puts to use his knowledge of human anatomy to save Lorelei’s life. Frankenstein is visibly impressed and Igor soon becomes a focus of the mad doctor’s obsession. This obsession leads to a daring rescue from the circus that brings Igor into Frankenstein’s world and his home.
Like Radcliffe with Igor, McAvoy does an equally commendable job of playing Victor Frankenstein. His Frankenstein is a man with something to prove. He rails against establishment at every turn, demanding all who will listen to see the world as he does. In Igor Frankenstein has found someone he believes to be both an equal and a servant. Someone who will listen to his mad rants about the world and about life and death and understand him without questioning him. McAvoy conveys Frankenstein as a man who is perpetually on the edge of becoming unhinged. His mind always racing at a pace that his own wild and frantic mannerisms can’t keep up with.
Individually these two lead actors deliver very powerful and convincing performances, but they are ill served by a poor script that lacks focus. The beauty of the Frankenstein story is the exploration of who is truly the monster. The ‘monster’ has been portrayed as the mob mentality of man, as the human fear of change and progress, as the narrow interpretation of nature allowed by religion, as the hubris of the mad scientist who ignores all common sense in his pursuit of his goal… In fact, the actual Frankenstein creation is rarely the scariest monster in the telling of this tale. But in Victor Frankenstein I found myself unclear as to who the real monster is? Victor Frankenstein is unabashedly driven, crazy with his pursuit of power. But we are also offered a sympathetic and understandable reasoning for his madness. Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) is the religious inspector who is trying to prove Frankenstein is a murderer. His tale mirrors Frankenstein’s in his obsessive madness in pursuit of his goal, but his pursuit never rises to any suspenseful level. Frankenstein’s business partner (Freddie Fox) has his own ulterior motives for aiding Frankenstein in his pursuits, but his story is a side-note in the film and carries little consequence.
In the end, I was left wondering who I was supposed to be fearful for in the film. Who was I supposed to be rooting for? The excellent performances of the two lead actors were squandered in a film that feels like it should have had a few more script drafts written before being shot.