A seductive and intense noir romance for our times, Frank & Lola is the story of two people locked in a battle of passion and obsession. When talented chef Frank meets aspiring fashion designer Lola, he is instantly and violently in love. As the secrets of Lola's dark past are revealed, the lovers are drawn into a web of sex, jealousy and revenge. With outstanding performances from Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots, Frank & Lola is a haunting examination of love, obsession and domination that weaves a twisted yet irresistible spell.
Escalating tension can be a powerful tool for any narrative, gradually bringing stories to an explosive breaking point. But what happens when all that buildup just continually seesaws, failing to ever amount to any kind of impactful revelation? Anticlimactic and disappointingly familiar, Matthew Ross' 'Frank & Lola' squanders some solid acting and engaging visuals on a lackluster script, meandering its way through a couple of generic twists before petering out with a limp shrug.
When Frank (Michael Shannon), a rising chef in Las Vegas, meets Lola (Imogen Poots), an aspiring fashion designer, the pair quickly fall for each other. But as disturbing events from Lola's past are brought to light, the couple's love is tested. Increasingly obsessed with punishing those who may have wronged his girlfriend, Frank embarks on a journey for vengeance, gradually revealing darker shades hidden beneath both lovers.
Though the setup has some decent potential, the story ultimately feels rather one-note and the languid pacing fails to reach any kind of eventful climax. Don't get me wrong, there are a few notable dramatic crescendos (clearly denoted by aggressively escalating music cues) as Frank searches for the truth about Lola's past, but after the momentary dust settles and the score simmers, all we are left with are a few generic and predictable reversals -- making it seem as if the plot is going in circles.
And while the film's examination of jealousy, obsession, passion, and objectification has merit, the execution lacks originality and depth, resulting in a tried-and-true script with underdeveloped characterizations. Lola, in particular, remains poorly defined by the time the credits roll. This is likely at least partially intentional (a sense of ambiguity about her is necessary for the plot), but it makes it hard to care about the couple when they mostly come across as stock archetypes.
On the upside, the leads do both make the most out of their underwritten roles, even if their chemistry is a little subdued. As Frank, Shannon channels his boiling rage, doubt, and confusion into some solid on-screen tension, and the actor's square-jawed visage makes him a perfect fit for the script's occasional bursts of hardboiled dialogue. Likewise, Poots brings a nice mixture of vulnerability, innocence, and resolve to Lola's potentially dangerous femme fatale qualities, perfectly complementing the movie's film noir style.
Bathed in moody lighting and ever-so softly drifting handheld camera movements, the film's aesthetic creates a darkly romantic atmosphere. Time is also occasionally jumbled and compressed in a few montages tied to the couple's courtship and fighting, lending a faintly dreamy quality to the runtime. This somber noir style then culminates in a quietly striking final shot, lending the climax a level of visual impact that the writing sadly lacks.
Too bland to work as an engaging mystery, too thin to work as a character study, and too indistinct to work purely as a mood piece, 'Frank & Lola' never really comes together. Isolated aspects can be compelling, but the narrative's leisurely boiling dramatic turns fall flat. Still, despite the lackluster plotting and characterizations, writer/director Matthew Ross does show some promise as a visual storyteller. I just wish he gave this script another revision or two... or maybe three.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal presents ‘Frank & Lola' on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. Instructions for a Digital Copy are included inside. After some skippable trailers, the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Appropriately moody and delicately stylized, the image offers a very effective noir aesthetic.
Shot on the Arri Aelxa, the digital source is essentially pristine and, outside of some very light grain-like noise, free from any troublesome artifacts. Clarity is strong throughout, rendering each furrow of doubt and boiling rage across Michael Shannon's square-jawed face. Likewise, the film's moody lighting designs lead to a solid sense of dimension. With that said, the picture does carry a faintly soft quality, and while this does limit fine textures in wide shots, it helps to bring a slightly dreamy air to the noir look. The stylized color palette mostly adheres to a yellow cast, though certain scenes carry a cooler appearance with blueish hues and key sequences offer some rich pop, like a scene featuring the glittery lights of the Vegas strip reflecting off of a car window as the characters drive. Contrast is balanced well with good black levels, but whites can be just a tad dim.
Devoid of any major technical quirks and drenched in delicate style, 'Frank & Lola' comes to Blu-ray with an impressive transfer.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, along with optional English SDH and French subtitles. Restrained yet potent in key bursts, the mix carries aggressive dramatic weight when it needs to.
Dialogue is clear, full-bodied, and well prioritized throughout with no technical issues. General ambiance is delicate but gently enveloping, spreading atmospherics -- like the jingling of coins in a casino or soft murmurs of clatter in a diner -- around the soundstage with subtle surround use. Directionality and imaging are also solid, transitioning appropriate effects, like a passing car, from speaker to speaker. And though decidedly subdued, the mix perks up nicely during specific music choices tied to Frank's escalating rage -- building toward rather aggressive low frequency cues. Likewise, a scene set in a rowdy club features appropriately deep bass.
The track can be a bit too quiet at times, but the concentrated sound design brings a subtle level of immersion to the proceedings and key sequences boil over with intense music cues.
Nothing. Not even a trailer.
Despite some solid performances and visuals, 'Frank & Lola' is a generic and underdeveloped noir romance. Though competently made, the storytelling and characterizations are disappointingly thin. On the technical front, this disc offers an impressive video transfer and a quietly immersive audio mix, helping to preserve the movie's moody style. Sadly, this release is as barebones as they come, lacking even a trailer. For big fans of the genre and the film's stars, this might make a decent rental, but nothing more.