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DEAR FRANKIE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Sharon Small, Jack McElhone
Director: Shoner Auerbach
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: July 5, 2005

“Who gave you the right to come in here and behave like this?”

“YOU DID.”

Film ***1/2

A movie with a plot like that of Dear Frankie could’ve easily gone down the highly manipulative path. A story laced with this much emotion drama could have the tendency, like that of a conventional movie, to beat the audience like a dead horse. However, this import from Scotland strays from those tiring formulas to deliver a much more special kind of film, one straight from the heart.

For a movie that does lift the spirit quite a bit, the film does happen to have a number of heartbreaking story elements. The title character, Frankie (Jack McElhone), is a deaf nine year old boy who has never gotten the opportunity to meet his father. He writes letters to him on daily basis, and he gets letters sent back to him, leading Frankie to the conclusion that he does have a father out there.

What Frankie doesn’t realize is that his mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), has been keeping something from him. The truth of the situation is this; Lizzie fled from her abusive husband when Frankie was just an infant. In order to keep the scary truth hidden from him, she invents a story, telling Frankie that the father is away at sea. The letters that Frankie gets sent to him are actually letters written by the mother herself.

But Frankie soon gets hope that his father is about to come town when he learns that the ship mentioned in the letters, The HMS Accra, is due to dock in the Scottish town of Glasgow where they reside. By means of keeping the act in full play, Lizzie must find a stranger from the arriving ship and have him play the role of Frankie’s father for just one day.

She finds a perfect candidate in a seagoing stranger (Gerard Butler). Lizzie proposes the offer, for which he’ll be paid for fulfilling. He accepts, and then proceeds to meet the young boy who thinks that he’s meeting his father for the very first time.

What seems like a quick and simple act of deception, attached to an even bigger act of deception, soon delivers its consequence when it is discovered that this stranger takes a liking to young Frankie. In addition, he admits to having affection for the mother, as well. Lizzie’s will to keep up the act is challenged when she receives news about the state of the real father.

Without giving too much away, all I can say is that Dear Frankie is a most engaging and very touching drama. The performances are nothing short of top notch. The striking Emily Mortimer is thoroughly convincing as a mother struggling between telling her son the truth and forever upholding deception. Gerard Butler, fresh off of The Phantom of the Opera, is pitch-perfect as the stranger who illustrates the perfect father figure. And young Jack McElhone as Frankie is one performance that you simply have to see to believe.

First time director Shona Auerbach, who also served as the film’s cinematographer, has made a most outstanding debut feature. Dear Frankie is an ideal choice for the entire family, and is a film that is likely to stay with you in the heart long after you see it.

Video ***

The anamorphic picture, courtesy of Miramax, is one that nicely captures the brisk landscape of the Scottish countryside. Despite an occasional instance of image softness, the picture is mostly clear and lively detailed, especially in outdoor shots, which there are a lot of. Colors are nicely delivered, as well.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix does this quiet, dialogue-driven piece quite nice. The dialogue delivery is as clear as a bell, and the Scottish set pieces provide great momentary dynamic sound. In addition, the music provided by Alex Heffes, resonates wonderfully through the channels.

Features ***

Featured on this disc is a commentary with director Shona Auerbach, deleted scenes with optional commentary, an interview with Auerbach, and a well made featurette titled “The Story of Dear Frankie”.

Summary:

Films as warm, touching, and ultimately real are most hard to come by these days, but Dear Frankie is a film that harbors each of those satisfying qualities. This is bright little gem of a picture that audiences will hopefully discover and pass on to others as time goes on.

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