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There are few current actors who embody the characters they play with as much burdensome weight as Michael Shannon, a man whose face alone seems already etched by more lifetimes than a person could bear. In each progressive performance, marked by his stoic, almost passive presence, he instills an edge that cuts deep with nearly every word, be it for our sympathies or otherwise. In Frank & Lola, it is the otherwise, a menace that simmers from frame to frame and layers the film with electric intensity.
Frank (Shannon) is a talented, self-taught chef who has fallen in love/obsession with Lola (Imogen Poots), a sexually-charged, alluring young woman and aspiring fashion designer who is equally drawn to his smoldering detachment. Their relationship is tempestuous at best, his fervent, silent jealously of her perceived as a strength. Their sex is focused on her requests for his dominance but he’s further interested in the attention she draws in public, especially when a man named Keith (Justin Long) offers her a job that would break her into the business, though Frank is convinced he only wants to bed her. When Keith extends the same dream-making proposal to Frank, saying he’s arranged an interview for him to be a chef at a famous restaurant in Paris, Frank accepts.
But Frank has ulterior motives in going to Paris. Living there is a man named Alan (Michael Nyqvist), who Lola says raped her when she was a bit younger. Crushed by the news, bent on revenge, the journey to Paris for Frank serves as a quest to find the truth, and then murder. But the truth is not at all what he sees before him, and just when he thinks he knows one thing, that changes, leaving Frank and Lola in a spiral.
Directed by Matthew Ross, Frank & Lola is a complex story about passions, misdirected and personal but always in the name of love, be it healthy or not. Each of these characters suffer for their love, are bound by it, and wholly afflicted to a point where they are nothing without it. Ross, who also wrote the screenplay, works locally, compressing these people into a tiny, compartmentalized world where the boundaries of their relationships leave them closed to any kind of life outside their pain. That pain is the addiction in which all their energies are spent.
A movie like this depends on its dialogue, carefully written exchanges that never sound authentic but are nonetheless genuine. They are the only weapons these people have, and cut with such voracity, when a knife does make an appearance, it seems wholly ineffectual, as if made of tin, and as such, is tossed away. The damage done here is made with twists and lies and betrayal, and while threats to abandon each other are made because of it, they are empty of course as these are the tethers that leave them huddling together in the dark places, fearful of being alone.
A noir-ish film like this teeters precariously on a steely edge, yet Ross and company keep this balanced with a sublime ease. It is impossible to take your eyes of Shannon, who leers and grimaces his way through the film, his jaw struck tight, holding in demons that seem desperate to be unleashed. In a lesser film, that is what would happen, and we would sacrifice power for bloodshed. Instead, Shannon finds subtle, indelible moments where he finds more effective release, in a simple gesture or an aside that has him peering into an unseen void.
Poots plays Lola as a broken woman, pathetically unable to suppress an emptiness in her soul, truthfully in love with Frank but weak in her vapid need for meaningless sex. It’s a harrowing performance. Nyqvist is good too, recalling a bit of his work in last year’s The Girl in the Book, here playing a man equally saddled by a blinding infatuation with Lola.
While the film is a bit off tonally, with its dips into Frank’s cooking skills, and as good as Shannon is, it might have been even stronger if he’d gone further with his menace, Frank & Lola is a shattering experience. Films like this have always been a fascination of mine, where characters and style collide with dark, disillusionment and mistrust and this one e nds with a pitch-perfect moment, a visual testimony that reduced everything we’ve just experienced to a future forever bound by what we see.
Director: Matthew Ross
Writer: Matthew Ross
Stars: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long
Genre: Noir, Drama