Brotherhood of the Wolf Reviews
This is an ambitious epic story that is a very stylish blend of multiple genres, including historical costume drama period piece, action, adventure, mystery, horror, anachronistic post "Matrix" style martial arts, and romance. It also deals with issues of race, religion, and politics. That's a hell of a lot of stuff for an action movie about a monster (non-metaphoric) on the loose.
The broad story takes places in 18th Century France and concersn a royal taxidermsit/naturalist and knight and his Iroquois companion who travel to the Gevaudan Province to investigate the case of a supposed wolf like monster that has een terrorizing the region.
Genre mashups are so hard to do, and do well, and though this film certainly does try, it is admittedly a bit of a mess. It's long, has uneven pacing, and feels like it lasts forever. I saw the slightly extended director's cut, so that just beefs it all up even more. Also, some of the effects are dated and not all that goods looking. They hired the Jim Henson Creature Shop though, so that shows they at least put some effort into it.
I think this film tried to do and be too much, and as a result, it's a real mixed bag that really doesn't always work as much as it should. I'm giving it a slight recommendation though, because it's never really boring, it's entertaining, and it's got some very cool costumes, great cinematography, and some okay action.
The acting is okay, but nothing truly amazing. Well, except for Mark Dacascos. He's awesome. Some of my assumptions about the plot and characters turned out to be correct, but that's fine. I wouldn't have minded being more surprised though.
I normally really praise ambition, but I think this could have been a real masterpiece had they just made it more focused and not tried ot cram so much in. Playing it more straight and accurate might have made for a less stylish and cool movie, but it would have been stronger overall.
Like I said, I'll give it a small recommendation, but it's not a brilliant work of art. It's great to look at and very entertaining though, and that's what really matters.
The story begins earnestly enough, with some Marquis penning a tale that took place several years earlier concerning a "beast" that is terrorizing the citizens of a French province. The king sends a "naturalist" to the area more because he's curious and wants to see the beast himself than because of any effort the protect his subjects (and isn't that just the way it always is with these damned kings?)
As the "naturalist" and his Indian companion traverse the countryside (and I must admit there is some beautiful photography to be viewed), they come upon some ruffians who are tormenting an old man and what appears to be his daughter. The Indian companion gets off his horse, walks into the fray and goes all Bruce Lee on the hapless Frenchies - uh oh, first misstep (as I'm wondering how a Canadian Indian in 1750 is hip to all that fu stuff).
From there the Naturalist meets up with the upper crust of the Province, and for some reason the filmmakers decide to include about a hundred characters, as if each and every one is important (here's a clue, they're not). This gives the filmmakers the opportunity to show that the upper crust were a bunch of bigots, equating the Indian "savages" to the "Negro in Africa". Ooh, sociology lesson kiddies!
The film then introduces a "love interest"... of course they do, this is a French film, what did you expect. Said affair de amour isn't just superfluous however, and in better hands could have made a substantial impact on the film. Alas! The film spends a great deal of time chatting amongst all the Dukes etc. and it is decided that they will marshal all the townspeople and local militia and go on a great hunt to capture or kill the "wolf". While on the hunt, the Naturalist and the Duchess or whatever she is, get separated (but fear not, for Jackie Chan comes with them - so no hanky panky occurs). In its place you get a bit of mysticism, as first the Indian says that he hears the dead speaking to him (hello, Indian dude, Bruce Willis here...) and then becomes the wolf whisperer, as a white wolf (Elric, where are ya when we need ya?) seems able to communicate with the Indian.
Of course the "beast" remains elusive, but heck, we all had a good time hunting, including yet another scene where the locals pit their meager talents against Jet Li, all while the girl who was being harassed by the ruffians in the scene where we first met the Indian watches with glee. She has one of those eye to eye thingies with the Indian, all filled with portents (of what we have no idea, and, funny thing, never will - though it is rumored that the wench is a witch - always wanted to use that bit of alliteration).
The film then makes up for the lack of hanky panky during the hunt by having the Marquis invite the Naturalist (and the Indian) to a brothel, whereupon the Naturalist, naturally (he he) meets up with a mysterious Italian (wow, what an international film we've got going here) who is obviously much more than a whore (even though she resides in the brothel).
So that's the setup - whew! To summarize, we've got a love interest, but the hero is also shagging the Italian. The Italian is "owed favors", probably in return for her favors, and remains a "woman of mystery". We've got a beast terrorizing the countryside, but after half of France goes a hunting, he remains unseen (it's as if the wolf is human, able to think and reason... hmmm, another red herring, or just red riding hood?). We've got possible witchcraft as well as a spiritual Indian who talks to the animals (Rex Harrison, may ye rest in peace), who is also versed in martial arts.
At this point we're almost half way through the 2.5 hour running time, and while the kung fu stuff taking place in 18th century France is pretty hilarious, I was at least entertained. Ah, but then things start to seriously unravel. The king sends some specialist hunter, direct from the court in Versailles (because, as everybody knows, the best hunters wear all those frilly costumes). There is a bit of deceit, the beast is pronounced dead and the Naturalist is ordered to return to Paris, where he is commissioned to head off to Africa - end of story. Or is it? No, the Naturalist knows of the deceit, and when the killings in the province resume, decides to return upon the request of the Marquis and the love interest, in spite of express orders by the monarchy to stay away.
There is yet another scene of a fresh-faced maiden being hunted by... well, you get the picture - and here I was wondering how all those peasant girls were so clean and rosy cheeked, even while sloshing through muddy bogs - silly me.
From here mystery and mysticism run rampant - there's some stuff involving a secret sect commissioned by the Pope (hmm, maybe the Naturalist can consult with Tom Hanks, or Nick Cage), all rolled up into a big mess where the film tries to wrap up each and every single plot thread - like the audience is supposed to care about what happens to some guy who only has 5 minutes of prior film time (was he a Duke, a Marquis, or the piss boy?).
Any film runs into serious trouble when it takes itself so seriously while asking you to believe in some pretty preposterous premises (that's PPP - I'm going to trademark the phrase). Having a Jedi master in a film where gunpowder is a recent discovery is just a bit jarring, but that's not the half of it. In attempting to make sense of everything, the film piles iffy proposition upon absurd proposition, upon plot convenience to build a mountain of.....merde? Including three or four false endings (all of which we could have done without), like a scene where the aged Marquis is brought before a teeming mob of peasants ("sire, the peasants are revolting" - "yes, they certainly are", yuck yuck) - I guess this was supposed to represent the revolution, and there's a funky bit of prose about the beast being quelled - said beast being the anger of the people, but really, was this viva la France moment really necessary, or for that matter the entire enterprise?
I also have to mention that there are some serious continuity issues here (but we're French, so we don't care about your silly continuity) - as well as a bit of truly bad CGI. The final analysis: if this film could have figured out what it wanted to be, it could have been much better, but the action film/political agenda - it's two, two, two films in one didn't do anyone any favors. I have some vague recollections of a film that was done by Disney back in the late 60's (of which I had a comic) called The Scarecrow - kind of a Robin Hoodish thing where an Englishman priest spent his evening hours confounding the crown's tax collectors - this film could have been like that, but would have required a much tighter narrative.
While it is not without it's flaws, it is very well done. And though the main premise of the story is "Baskerville-ish", it is nicely enveloped with enough French history, martial arts and lush costumes and sets that (for the most part) it is easy to overlook.
My only complaint would be with some of the CGI effects regarding "the beast". They were a bit low budget at times. But again, there is SO much other really great stuff to be said for the film, that it is pretty easy to overlook those few moments of bad CGI.
Gregoire De Fronsac: Speak of it? They're already singing songs about it.
Geneviève de Morangias: Instead of singing songs, they should be saying prayers.
Quite the strange film, which manages to pack a historical atmosphere with killer wolves, martial arts, crazy amounts of cleavage and nudity, political drama, romance, and some slick cinematography to make it all look nice. The film is too all over the place to be great, but it is entertaining.
Set in 18th century France, the Chevalier de Fronsac and his native American friend Mani are sent by the King to the Gevaudan province to investigate the killings of hundreds by a mysterious beast. During this time, more characters are introduced, including a one-armed count, played by Vincent Cassel and one of the women at the local brothel, played by Monica Bellucci. While on the hunt for the dangerous beast killing many, the two main men learn that there may be much more to the terrorizing of the beast than one may know.
Jean-Francois de Morangias: Congratulations. If I had both my hands, I'd applaud you.
At two and a half hours, this is a long movie, especially given its B-movie style plot outline. The first hour and a half was actually really good, before the movie descended into stranger and stranger territory. The characters are interesting and the premise was working for me. As the film kept going, all the other layers detracted from my liking of the movie.
The two things that were the most solid here were Mark Dacascos as the Native American who was awesome as a quiet martial arts expert and the gorgeous cinematography. Any movie that can give us both beautiful landscapes and transition fades from Bellucci's breasts to mountains is quality. Certainly adding to both these elements (Dacascos and the cinematography) is the action sequences, which make great use of slo mo and speed ups.
As intriguing as the beast aspect of the story is, seeing it wasn't too satisfying, however, it did kinda grow on me in a strange sort of way.
Now in addition to all of this, as absurd as some of the elements in this film are, what is surprising is that a lot of the characters and their character traits are actually true. Its a detail that I feel necessary to share, because what else can I say about this movie? It has some cool action, looks great, but is overly long.
Gregoire De Fronsac: How did it happen?
Jean-Francois de Morangias: I learned that sometimes one bullet doesn't suffice.
The two arrive in the village and begin their search but find impediments of all types being thrown by the villagers. Most of the resistance is thrown in the face of Mani, the "barbarian", who exhibits both amazing spiritual, medical, and physical prowess to stave off complaints. After a slaughter of the wolf pack inhabiting the woods everyone feels safe, only to have more children attacked by the creature. Fronsac and Mani track the beast to its lair only to discover a terrible secret and tragedy ensues. Then the movie really heats up!
I'm a fan of foreign films but I don't think I have ever seen one that could only be described as an action/martial-arts/romance/horror/suspense movie before and I doubt I will ever seen one again that was as good as this one. The storyline was well plotted ( maybe it had to much plot but I prefer that to none at all) and the cinematography was beautiful. The fight scenes were incredibly choreographed and this was not a surprise having seen Mark Dacascos (Mani) before in other action films. I don't want to give too much more away to ruin the experience but to sum up. This is one to check out.
love this movie alot.