“The Brotherhood of the Wolf,” has something for almost everyone. Nearly every genre imaginable is crammed into this flick. It’s your typical martial arts, monster movie, murder mystery, period romance and political thriller.
The film’s identity crisis is not a bad sign however. If the moviegoer can forgive the indecision, the film is actually a fun and exciting ride with only a few minor setbacks.
To get some idea of the feel of the film, it is as if Alexandre Dumas, James Fenimore Cooper and Peter Benchley got together to write a screenplay after watching “The Matrix.”
Set in pre-Revolutionary France, a naturalist named Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is sent by the king to investigate a series of brutal killings attributed to rumors of a beast that hunts down women and children. Accompanying him is an Iroquois Indian named Mani, who is straight out of a Hong Kong action film. He is able to take on a large group of men with only the help of a cane and excellent slow motion photography. Mark Dacascus, who plays Mani, has a great presence that is at once understated and intimidating. The inclusion of such a character is curious, especially one who seems capable of winning the French and Indian War on his own, but the addition of Dasascus only enhances the fun of the picture. While it is a genre-crossing action film, director Christophe Gans is very good at addressing the racism that Mani could have faced among Europeans of the time.
Amidst the bloodshed is a romance between Fronsac and Marianne de Moranglas, played with an innocent but strong touch by Emilie Dequenne. Though the attraction is almost immediate (the plot-heavy film has no time to dilly-dally), the two main actors have plenty of screen chemistry. The moviegoer should not expect an involved romance, but enough to make for a more interesting picture.
The biggest letdown is the final revelation of the beast. For a film that already stretches the viewer’s disbelief, the fantastical monster seems almost too much. The creature, created by Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop, is perhaps the most brutally scary Muppet ever created, but seems out of place in a period piece. It’s better suited for a sci-fi film.
Gans, who has only made low-grade genre films before this, here proves he is equal to his French filmmaking colleagues. He has the stylish sense of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Luc Besson’s eye for action. Hopefully he will not follow in Besson’s footsteps, as he has made only mediocre films since his brilliant masterpiece, “The Professional.”
Along with Dequenne, one of the best performances comes from Vincent Cassel, who plays Marianne’s brother. Cassel is perhaps best known to American audiences as the incredible sleazy French suitor in Shekar Kapur’s “Elizabeth.” (He is also the voice of Monsieur Robin Hood in “Shrek.”) Though he plays the typical antagonist, he is very good at it, until the third act, when the script fails him. At a certain plot point this once intelligent character turns into a ruthless psychotic who seems to have great control over his Hyde-like alter ego at the beginning of the story, unleashing his true self near the end.
Despite the film’s subtitles, the moviegoer should not expect an art house picture. Considering the contempt the French have for slick American films, it is curious that such a blatantly American-influenced film could be such a hit over there. Hopefully, if enough Americans can get over their fear of subtitles, it will be a hit here too.
Staff Writer Steve Allan can be contacted at: [email protected]