Tuesday, February 9, 2010

THE WOLFMAN (Film Review)


By Michael Gingold
Even a film that is pure in heart, apparently, can become something tortured and misshapen once it finally sees the light of a projector. The long-awaited remake of THE WOLFMAN has finally emerged as a disappointing muddle, making it very easy to believe the widespread reports of postproduction tinkering, re-edits and reshoots. What began as a passion project for star Benicio Del Toro has wound up as a movie that’s technically proficient but is crucially lacking both soul and bite.

Absent any distinctive stylistic panache, genuine emotional drama or much in the way of scares beyond a few easy, reflexive jolts, what’s left is a story arc that has become very familiar since the original 1941 WOLF MAN first laid its ground rules. Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, an actor long estranged from his British family, who is performing in London in 1891 when he is called back to his ancestral estate at Blackmoor. His brother has been missing for several weeks, to the great concern of the vanished man’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt), and not quite so much on the part of eccentric patriarch Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins). Lawrence arrives at Blackmoor just after his brother’s body is found mangled in a ditch—which only adds to the psychological scars left from having witnessed his mother’s suicide as a child and spending some subsequent time in an asylum. Meanwhile, the superstitious villagers believe the devil is responsible for the string of recent murders, and that a band of gypsies camped nearby might also be involved.



There’s a lot going on in the first act of Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self’s script, but even given that, the pace of the movie’s opening half hour seems unduly hurried, cut together like a long introductory montage without giving any scene room to breathe. The film seems unduly anxious to get to its raison d’etre: the attack by a loping, hairy beast that leaves Lawrence alive but suffering from its curse. Once the full moon rises again, he turns into a slavering creature via CGI that’s not as distracting as one might expect but not as visceral as one might hope, ending up in Rick Baker makeup that’s finely crafted yet perhaps too traditionally conceived for the revelation of Lawrence’s werewolf guise to be very shocking.

That wouldn’t matter so much if there was a real sense of the man beneath the monster, or palpable human drama in between the gore-strewn lycanthropic rampages. Instead, the characters remain sketchy throughout, and there’s little engagement in Lawrence’s relationships with either John (as whom Hopkins sports an on-again, off-again Scottish accent) or Gwen; all three leads, clearly dedicated to the seriousness of the project, come off as solemn to a fault. Hugo Weaving brings a little more juice to Inspector Aberline, who arrives from Scotland Yard to bring the hairy murderer to justice, but the most attention-getting performance—for the wrong reasons—is given by Antony Sher as the weirdo-accented head of an asylum where Lawrence is brought for torturous treatment, in over-the-top sequences that play like Mel Brooks took Joe Johnston’s place in the director’s chair.

For the rest, Johnston is overly dependent on sudden barking dogs, soundtrack wham!s and nightmare scenes to goose the audience before Lawrence gets beastly, and once he does, THE WOLFMAN doesn’t convincingly deal with the issue of the month’s period between his full moon-affected transformations. Everyone around the Talbots seems aware of the existence of werewolves and what to do about them, yet they make only the must cursory efforts to deal with the problem. These and other logical loopholes may well be the result of footage hitting the cutting room floor, where one can only also assume there’s more of Geraldine Chaplin as the old gypsy woman Maleva, a crucial character in the ’41 picture whose role is reduced to superfluousness here.

On the surface, THE WOLFMAN is handsomely produced, with Shelly Johnson’s cinematography, the production design by SLEEPY HOLLOW Oscar-winner Rick Heinrichs and Milena Canonero’s costumes all contributing to the heavy period atmosphere and Danny Elfman drenching it in a robust score. The movie is great to look at and listen to, which makes it a shame that it makes you feel so little. What it needed—beyond a trust in the audience’s patience—was the baroque passion that Francis Ford Coppola brought to BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, or—dare I say it—the nutty energy with which Kenneth Branagh infused MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN. Instead, THE WOLFMAN comes off like a compromise between reverence to its landmark predecessor and capitulation to modern attention spans.

19 comments:

  1. 10 seconds of Maria Ouspenskaya in the original is scarier than
    this film...and more soulful! This film-which could've been reallllly good!-needed Werewolf aficionado Beta Testers...Ridley Scott...and no morons from Universal giving their (twilight) opinions!

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  2. can't wait to check this movie out

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  3. you're crazy, there was nothing wrong with this movie at all. it looked great and was entertaining from start to finish. the beast was vicious also, as it should be. i like the original, too, but if i want to see the original wolf man than i watch it. this is an altogether different wolf man and does a great job at that.

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