Uncle Frank review: Paul Bettany excels in new drama

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From Six Feet Under and American Beauty writer Alan Ball comes the new drama Uncle Frank – here’s our review.

This one starts through the eyes of Sophia Lillis’ Beth, who we meet in her early teens at a family birthday. There, her grandfather is grunting his way through opening his gifts, and in particular he reserves a special snarl for one from his son, Frank. There are clear family tensions immediately apparent in the story, set in 1970s America, and the quality of the cast immediately elevates the film. When you’ve got Judy Greer and Steve Zahn in supporting roles, you’re off to a very good start.

But for writer/director Alan Ball – best known for his American Beauty screenplay and the TV show Six Feet Under – his trump card is Paul Bettany.

He plays Frank, who we then catch up with four years later, when Beth meets up with him again. There, the secrets of his life are slowly peeled back, in particular his relationship with Peter Macdissi’s Wally. What ensues is a curious three-hander, lifted considerably by its players, some wit and some sparkling dialogue.

Bettany in particular is quite superb, not least in a standout moment towards the end of the film, where it would have been much easier to grandstand. Instead, he finds the edges of his character and convincingly brings them to the screen. I thought Lillis was really good value too, and my favourite parts of the film tended to be the conversations between the two of them.

The actual narrative thread that holds it all together I didn’t find quite as convincing, edging more towards ‘it’ll do’ than ‘that’s really compelling’. It’s enough to hang the film on, but as the movie shifts towards a conclusion at speed, I couldn’t help but feel it undercut itself just a little. There’s not too much cinematic about it either, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Ball may have found a better home for its ingredients in a mini-series.

It’s still a good use of 90 minutes or so, with Uncle Frank careful not to outstay its welcome. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something just a little bit better in the midst of all of this.

Paul Bettany, though, is superb, and very much reason enough to seek out the film. It’s available to stream on Prime Video now.


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