Frailty, the directorial debut by actor Bill Paxton, is an underrated gem that at first glance almost appears as tame as an episode of Lassie- with a small Texas family just making ends meet but happy with the cards they've been dealt.
It's a dark, rainy night when Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walks into FBI headquarters and insists to speak to the lead agent, stating that he has pertinent information regarding the 'God's Hand Killer, a serial murderer eluding capture in the Dallas area. He claims the killer is his younger brother, Adam, and says he can prove it by showing the agent where the bodies are buried. Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) at first thinks Fenton daft, but after listening to a few minutes of the improbable tale, he reconsiders. And Fenton continues as we blast back to the past...
A father (Bill Paxton, whom we'll simply refer to as "Dad" because no name was given) is raising two young sons, Fenton (Matt O'Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), on his own after his wife died giving birth to the youngest. For all intents and purposes, they seem like quite the content family, with older Fenton taking care of Adam while Dad is at work, then the three sit down at dinner and discuss their day.
It's obvious without a word spoken than Fenton thinks his dad has flipped his lid. Younger, more impressionable Adam has doubts but is willing to cast them aside because it's his daddy. And daddies are only there to protect you. If God spoke to Daddy then whatever God said must be law.
When the film bounces back to real-time on occasion, we can feel the pain and hurt of the life that Fenton has lead. The truly agonizing decisions that have been made affected the entire family, and left his adult brother Adam with a gun at his temple, saying he couldn't take it anymore. But there is more to the story that is best left unsaid. Newcomers to this film need to experience this movie without knowing anything at all, like I did. I first saw it many years ago and just recently revisited it. I'd forgotten how powerful it is.
All in all, Paxton's direction is as first-rate as his acting, and when the film comes together for its final act, which is perhaps a tad predictable but nonetheless shocking, it's easy to place it among the best of thrillers, a psychological mind-boggler of the very best kind. Seek this out, by all means.