I saw this movie for the first time, in the dark solitude of my attic late at night. (I was trying to create a scary atmosphere for maximum effect) To my surprise, though, after it finished, I wasn't very frightened, but very emotionally drained. I had expected Frankenstein to be your classic, everyday, lame horror film which you only watch to get some cheap thrills, and see some horrible overacting. I didn't find it so at all.
This movie was, there is no other word for it, beautifully done - a powerful, dynamic story of how man attempts to achieve greatness, but ends up ruining their lives and the lives of others as a result. I have not read Mary Shelley's book, but if it has half the emotional effect of this movie, I'll consider it time well spent!
What really surprised me though, was that this wasn't a horror film in the traditional sense of the word - it wasn't so that the monster would jump out and the audience would scream. It was more about how the audience would slowly writhe as they realize the tortured motivations of the creature and what he's willing to do as consequence.
Kenneth Branagh brought this movie together wonderfully, with both his directing and powerful, memorable acting as the tormented Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein is somewhat obsessed with death, after losing his mother at an early age, so he attempts to create a new form of artificial life, derived from various body parts of corpses: a life which cannot be so easily extinguished, and is superior to normal human life in every aspect. (except, perhaps, looking normal) However, he soon learns that it's not good to muck around with creating life, when his creation attacks him, and he abandons it. The creature, although initially showing signs of being a sympathetic and caring soul, quickly learns that the ways of man are harsh and judgmental, so he swears revenge on his creator for bringing him into this world of isolation.
The 'creature', was played absolutely masterfully by Robert De Niro. Before Frankenstein, the only movies I had seen with him were Analyze This and Analyze That, and those were comedies, so it was difficult to see his skills as a serious actor, but in playing Frankenstein's creation he created a character that is confused, alone, hostile, manipulative and clever: a very conflicted anti-hero. The scene at the end at Victor Frankenstein's funeral left me in shock by the sheer aura he projects - mixed hatred with compassion and confusion. In my opinion, his best moment is when he meets the ship's captain who asks him 'Who are you?' and the creature nods to his dead creator and responds 'He never gave me a name.' If nobody felt the power in that line, then I don't know what to say to them. I think De Niro deserved an Oscar, or at least a nomination for this role.
The supporting cast is also very good, with Helena Bonham Carter doing a wonderful and chilling job as Frankenstein's wife (another one who I think should have gotten an Oscar nod), and John Cleese (in probably the only downright serious role in his career) being very creepy as Frankenstein's mentor, who realized before that the moral implications of his kind of work cannot be lived with. Ian Holm as Baron Frankenstein was also good, but sadly, his part was underused. It would have been nice to see more of this great actor in this movie alongside all these other great actors. This isn't really a problem for the film as a whole: Holm played a relatively minor character, but I have a lot of respect for his acting skills, and I would have liked to see more of them in this movie.
This is probably one of the most powerful and draining movies I've ever seen in my life; I was so impressed by it that I had to run out and buy the DVD right away. I realize this film has many critics, who claim that it is 'seriously flawed' - I really can't understand what they're talking about. I guess some people are harder to please than others, but I find it almost impossible to find anything wrong with this film. Perhaps it was expected that it would be more your traditional horror film, but it really wasn't a horror movie - it was a character movie. It's true that there were some disgusting parts (I won't go into specifics, but you can probably get the idea), but they seemed to merely add to the mood of the movie, and increase your revulsion that Victor Frankenstein would have thought of creating such a monstrosity. For anyone who needs a good, powerful movie that'll leave you drained and thoughtful, this is THE movie for you!