The unusually public education of James Franco, somnambulant Oscar host and university-degree collector, continues with this sincere biopic on the life of American poet Hart Crane (played by Franco himself, when not directing, screenwriting or making someone a sandwich). Don’t assume that Franco, 34, is helming a movie for the first time—oh, no. He already has a mystifying seven features to his name and has even portrayed a poet before (in Howl). The Broken Tower, taken from Paul Mariani’s stylistically ambitious 1999 study, channels Franco’s bounding drive into a vaguely experimental Todd Haynesian b&w mold. Divided into multiple “voyages,” the movie touches on front-seat gay fellatio, multiple trips abroad and Crane’s tense relationship with his father, an Ohio candy-factory owner.
Franco’s commitment to the material is generous: We observe lengthy readings before confused matrons—tense moments that put the poetry up front—as well as a boozy bedroom scene in which Crane articulates the radical compositional form he was going for. Still, the actor can’t seem to escape his stoned-sounding diction (his performance suffers from distraction), and the movie bears the affectation of student work: lots of stumbling around in parks, sudden cuts to black, etc. You might find all this endearing: The Broken Tower feels unique as a young man’s tribute to an adventuresome, doomed soul. Hopefully, Franco will return to the subject once he’s acquired a little more poise—say, after seven more films.
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