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As Matthew Ross’ new film Frank & Lola opens, Michael Shannon is in bed with Imogen Poots. They’re in the heat of passion. The neon-lit skyline of Las Vegas can be seen out the window. And for a split second, you almost allow yourself to think how nice it is to finally see this actor more often than not cast as menacing heavies and squinty creeps playing a romantic lead. That thought lasts for about three minutes. It turns out there’s no rest for the wicked. Shannon, who plays Frank, a classically trained chef, isn’t exactly a bad guy. He’s a classic film-noir sap like Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past. A love-sick guy who allows himself to fall for the wrong girl and then gets led down a morally rocky path toward oblivion.
Shannon’s intensity is the best thing Frank & Lola has going for it. And it’s almost enough to make it work. The film just plops us into Frank and Lola’s relationship. We don’t know how they met or how long they’ve been together, we just know that Frank is wild about this woman whose sparkling saucer eyes and flirtatious, playing-with-fire smile are masking secrets he wants to know—or thinks he wants to know until he actually knows them. Then, there’s no turning back. Frank discovers that Lola has been seeing someone else—a wealthy French playboy (played by Michael Nyqvist)—and when he gets the chance to go to Paris to audition for a job as a chef in a new high-end restaurant, he plans a detour to face his rival and do what jealous noir patsies have been doing for ages: kill for the dame. Except things aren’t as clear-cut Lola led him to believe.
To give away any more wouldn’t be fair, but Frank & Lola ends up having a few too many convenient coincidences and far-fetched twists to be more than the B-movie it is. Nyqvist (so good in the Swedish Dragon Tattoo films) and Emmanuelle Devos (unforgettable in Read My Lips and Kings & Queen) are deliciously sordid as a kinky European couple with a lax attitude about fidelity. And Poots, who seems one film away from becoming a huge movie star, is terrifically unpredictable—vulnerable one minute and manipulative the next. But it’s Shannon whose wildcard intensity turns Frank & Lola into something more than the script’s collection of hardboiled implausibilities. B-