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Ian McKellen
Brendan Fraser
Lynn Redgrave
Lolita Davidovich
David Dukes
Kevin J. O'Connor

Bill Condon




Time: 105 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor (McKellan) and Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave).

Though I generally liked this movie, Ian McKellen gives a wonderful performance worth the price of admission, I have two major complaints. Brendan Fraser is likeable, funny and easy on the eyes, but he doesn't have a great dramatic presence. There just doesn't seem to be much rattling around in his great, big attractive head, which may be my impression from the roles he's chosen to play, but this part needed more than just a pretty face. The character is supposed to be somewhat dangerous and unpredictable and I just didn't get that from him. He just didn't pull it off and in a movie where you're the co-star, that's a big problem. I was also disappointed by the story in general. I liked the idea that it followed the decline of this once famous Hollywood insider, but the film didn't get deep enough into the ideas and situations that were interesting. I wanted to know more about James Whale's directing career, why he loved it, what made him leave, how he survived being openly gay at a time when it was accepted, but never talked about.

The film touches on these things – a memory flash here, a few sentences there – but never really gets under the surface of these issues. Instead, it concentrates on Whale's illness, which though it's killing him isn't really all that compelling, and his newfound friendship with Fraser's character. Since they aren't acting on the same level, it pretty much shoots the premise of the film in the foot right from the beginning. As the film opens James Whale (McKellen) has been retired from the film business for over 15 years. He's lived a comfortable life since being forced out of the business. According to his maid, Hannah (Redgrave), he's a dirty old man who's going to hell for his sexual deviance. In Jimmy's mind, he's already in hell. His mind, his most valued treasure, is slowly degenerating. In time, sooner than he wants to believe, it will give way altogether, making him a ghost in his own body. If he doesn't take his medication, he practically goes insane – he can't sleep, his mind races a mile a minute – if he does, he's essentially a vegetable – no energy, can't put two sentences together. It's a constant struggle just to be himself.

"It is kind of you to indulge your elders in their vices. Just as I indulge the young in theirs."

In walks Clayton Boone (Fraser), the hunky yard man. In him James finds an interesting new companion. Clay is wary at first, but he's intrigued by James, and even impressed when he discovers who he is. Everybody knows and loves the "Frankenstein" movies he directed. James pretends that it's no big deal, but he secretly likes the attention, especially from someone as attractive as Clay. They strike up a cautious acquiantance, with Clay stopping in whenever James asks for him. To help pass the time, James asks if he could draw Clay. The suggestion makes him slightly nervous and uncomfortable. Of course Clay's secretly flattered, so it doesn't take long to convince him to model, especially when he's going to get paid for his time. During these afternoon sessions, the men start slowly getting to know one another. Clay asks about James' life, what Hollywood was like, where he grew up. At first, James likes to reminise, but quickly becomes angered when he can't control his memories, which take him to places he'd rather not revisit. James also accidently angers Clay by talking too openly about his sexuality and the men he used to date. They're constantly walking a tightrope of tension, trying to learn about each other without causing the budding friendship to self-destruct.

Things between them eventually settle down. When Hanna asks Clay about his relationship with James, Clay assures her they're nothing more than friends. Clay has demons of his own – we only get glimpses of – but he's definitely not gay. James laughs when Clay confesses this. He's not interested in Clay in that way. He's not his type. In fact, that's what James counted on. His reason for befriending Clay has nothing to do with sex. It's much darker than that. Namely, someone who when provoked in an extreme manner would put James out of his misery once and for all. What he finds out, is that Clay, like most monsters, aren't as horrible or dangerous as they appear. Though an interesting concept, this film becomes little more than that. Fraser just isn't up to the task and neither is the story. I'm sure James Whale lived a very diverse and interesting life, but we don't really get to see it. I know this isn't a biography, but I wanted more about him and his life. How can I feel sorry for him and the life he's losing, if I don't know anything about it? McKellen is charming as James and really tries to make you feel for him. He succeeds to a point, but not enough to make this film as brilliant as it could be. A nice try though.

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