Double Edge Films
Like Christopher Nolan on a budget, writer/director Jamin Winans (Ink) creates worlds where imagination and emotion trump logic and traditional cohesion. That’s not a criticism of either man’s talents – instead it’s just to say that both place a high premium on the way their films make us feel and the ideas we’re left to mull over in our minds once the credits have rolled. Winans’ latest film, The Frame, continues that theme as it presents viewers with a beautiful, sci-fi tinged love story fueled by fate, forgiveness and wonder.
Alex (David Carranza) is a criminal with a conscience, but his desire to escape the life puts a target on his back. Sam (Tiffany Mualem) spends her days saving lives as an EMT, but her lonely nights are filled with guilt and shame over past deeds. They lead separate lives where co-workers take the place of real friends, where what’s left of family is hanging on by a thin thread and where day to day struggles threaten to drown out even the best and most hopeful of intentions. A crack in the world brings these two souls together, but what chance do they stand with the world itself trying to keep them apart?
You’ll get no real spoilers below, but I do hint at a very cool turning point that happens early on in the film – early as in around the fifteen minute mark. If you’d rather go in completely blind (an idea I support) then stop reading here and bookmark us so you can return after you’ve seen the film. Otherwise, keep reading (and then go see the film).
Alex and Sam couldn’t be more different in their chosen careers and life stories, but their current mind set is a shared frustration at the pains of the world and the futility of trying to make any of it better for themselves or for others. Each of them retreat into the distraction of television where the focus is on someone else’s life and problems, but one night something happens to bring these two strangers together – is it chaos or is it a miracle? – as the normally passive medium of TV becomes the active fulcrum of their previously distinct existence. The scene is only the first of several moments in the film that send chills of discovery and mystery through the viewer.
The film isn’t shy about embracing allegory to tell its story, but that doesn’t mean it’s a simplistic narrative. It’s closer to the opposite in fact. The basic impulse behind the story is a familiar refrain that the movie does a fantastic job of exploring both creatively and without a heavy hand. Events and ideas are laid out, but conclusions and overlying culpability are left open to interpretation. The only agenda here is to make viewers feel and think, and in that endeavor it succeeds brilliantly.
It’s a “big idea” kind of movie, but it works on traditional entertainment levels too thanks to its engaging characters and story and a real sense of beauty in its visuals. It takes us to some ugly places to be sure – Alex’s apartment in particular feels like a temporary way station turned permanent prison – but Winans and cinematographer Robert Muratore continually work to keep our eyes glued. From wide city-scapes to the smallest of movements captured by the camera, this is attractive filmmaking in spite of its budget. There’s also sequences of action and suspense crafted and edited as well as any Hollywood production to keep our bodies tensed and on edge. Alex’s heists are deceptively big sequences thanks to stylish and effective editing and scoring, and even Sam gets an uneasy and nerve-wracking couple of moments.
Visual effects are immersive and eye-catching throughout, and while one or two bumpy, budget-induced glitches remain the overwhelming effect is impressive. The film also earns major points for some physical effects that shake and rattle their way to life in the third act. They result in some spectacular sequences guaranteed to leave viewers wondering how exactly they were accomplished.
As good as the surrounding presentation is though it would all be for naught if the caliber of acting wasn’t high, and thankfully both Carranza and Mualem deliver beautifully. The story sees some pretty far out turns, and both actors are convincing in their reactions and interactions to the story and to each other. More important, both feel real and rich in their emotions, and their personalized microcosms of humanity add volumes to the film’s exploration of the same as they grow close across an immeasurable distance. Ink veteran Christopher Soren Kelly also does strong work in a trio of integral supporting roles.
Winans’ script does make some missteps along the way including a few moments that see the film’s themes hit too forcefully on the nose. The film also feels a little long at 127 minutes with the culprits being some belabored back story and a couple narrative beats that are allowed to continue and repeat past the point of necessity. None of this halts the film or deflates the atmosphere, but the pause is noticeable (especially on a re-watch).
The Frame is a metaphysical urban fantasy that fills the heart and mind equally as it asks questions about destiny vs free will and the effect – both good and bad – that we have on each other throughout our lives. It’s heartfelt sci-fi where ideas of love and humanity are more than just a backdrop for giant action set-pieces – they are the set-pieces. “Nothing is a miracle,” says Alex, “not if you look close enough.” The existence of this film in a cinematic landscape filled with CGI robots and reboots would suggest otherwise.
The Upside: Highly effective visual effects and score; genuine moments of chill-inducing wonder; story refuses to be fit into a box; emotionally satisfying; proudly allegorical; fun take on deus ex machina
The Downside: Visual ideas sometimes stretch the budget limitations; some drag and unnecessary repetition
On the Side: Jamin Winans also composed the film’s score (and it’s fantastic).