"The Broken Tower" brings us the story of tortured poet Hart Crane (Franco), whose life as the son of a wealthy businessman was anything but easy. Crane was driven to write and like many other poets, only found the fame and recognition he sought in life after he had died or -- in Crane's case -- committed suicide.
Crane was a gay man in the early 1900s, which presented problems in and of itself. A few scenes in the film show that his sexual orientation was something the poet wanted to keep out of the spotlight while he was trying to make a name for himself. While Crane wanted to keep his lifestyle private, Franco lays it out early in the film with a scene with Crane being intimate with another man.
Franco's film plays like an experimental art film, with the action presented in black and white, except Crane's walk through the Notre Dame Cathedral, and broken down into sequences titled "Voyages," named after the title of one of the poet's works.
We see Crane attempt suicide as a young man and how those demons stalked him throughout his adult life. Suicide or the threat of suicide seems to be always something the poet was on the verge of, at least as Franco's film conveys.
Franco served as writer, producer, director and editor on the film, and although "The Broken Tower" doesn't quite hit its marks all the time, Franco shows he has the skill to make some good cinema. His screenplay is clunky at times and as a director, he needs to learn the word "cut" as some scenes play well beyond the purpose they were intended. One scene in particular has Franco repeating the same word over and over as he struggles to write ad copy.
Cinematographer Chistina Voros does some really good work in the film. Listening to the audio commentary, she chose angles out of necessity but they were the right choices. A perfect example is the scene in Notre Dame. The film's budget didn't allow for a close set, so as tourists enjoyed the beauty of the cathedral, Voros shot Franco from low angles to capture both the actor and the splendor of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The DVD release features an audio commentary with Franco, Voros and producer Vince Jolivette that give some cool insight in the making of the film. There's also a featurette featuring Franco interviewing Hart Crane scholars via Skype.
Final Cut: "The Broken Tower" is a solid film but has many small errors that add up to a big problem for the viewer. Some scenes take too long to develop and individual shots linger too long, but Franco does show he has the skill to get the job done. Unfortunately, it wasn't with this movie. Hopefully he'll learn to kill his darlings and edit down scenes to make the story flow better.
Movie: 3 Stars
Extras: 4 Stars
The Broken Tower
Starring: James Franco, Michael Shannon, Stacey Miller, Vince Jolivette, Dave Franco, Betsy Franco
Director: James Franco
Writer: James Franco, Paul L. Mariani
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 90 minutes