Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Wolfman

The Wolfman **
Directed By: Joe Johnston.
Written By: Andrew Kevin Walker & David Self based on the 1941 movie written by Curt Siodmark.
Starring: Benicio Del Toro (Lawrence Talbot), Emily Blunt (Gwen Conliffe), Anthony Hopkins (Sir John Talbot), Hugo Weaving (Abberline), Geraldine Chaplin (Maleva), Art Malik (Singh).

The original 1941 film The Wolfman directed by George Waggner cannot compare to the new version in terms of special effects, make-up, leeway in terms of violence, and even acting talent (yes, Claude Rains was in the original film, but actor for actor, the people in the new version are better actors than before). And yet, 69 years after the original film came out it is still remembered and watched by many. There is something tremendously creepy about the original film. I saw the film years ago, and yet I can still remember the movie, and the effect it had on me. Just two days after watching the latest version, it has almost completely faded from memory. It is one of those films that is mildly entertaining while you are watching it, but evaporates from your mind in the parking lot. 69 years from now, no one will want to watch this film.

The story is basically the same as the original. Famed stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benico Del Toro) is called back to his home for the first time in years. His brother has gone missing, and his fiancĂ©e Gwen (Emily Blunt) believes that Lawrence may be able to help find him. But when Lawrence returns, his brother’s body has already been found - torn to pieces by some sort of wild animal. His father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) offers him an icy welcome. Lawrence decides to stay on and try and figure out what happened to his brother. One night, he travels to a nearby gypsy camp, and is on hand when the beast attacks. He tries to fight off the beast, but is attacked and bitten himself. An old gypsy, Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) repairs him, and sends him home. The doctor thinks Lawrence will not recover, but he astonishes everyone with his rapid recovery. Lawrence grows closer to Gwen, while suspicion falls upon him for the murders from the representative from the Scotland Yard Abberline (Hugo Weaving). There are no real surprises as to what happens next. Lawrence has indeed been bitten by a werewolf, and when the full moon comes out, he can control himself - he transforms into a wolf man and goes on a killing spree.

The movie is directed by Joe Johnston, who obviously has a soft spot for the original movie. Not only do they follow the basic outline of the plot, he also maintains the same sort of look for the wolf man himself. Many recent werewolf movies (Twilight in particular), have turned the human characters directly into wolves, but this movie maintains the respect for the original movie. When he turns into a werewolf, Del Toro is some sort of cross between wolf and man. The transformation sequences are well handled - with Del Toro’s head snapping back, his hand seemingly dislocating, the teeth pushing forward. The special effects and the make-up are perhaps the best thing about the movie.

A big part of the problem in this movie is that Del Toro and Hopkins - who have the two most pivotal roles - seem to sleepwalk through their performances. If Del Toro meant to try to make his character more mysterious by delivering most of his lines in an almost hushed whisper (except of course when he’s yelling), then it doesn’t work. Instead he just appears to be bored by everything going on around him. There are some actors who are great in serious, dramatic work, like Del Toro is, who just cannot make it work in genre films. They take it all too seriously. This is a movie about a man who turns into a wolf and kills people. This is not the time for method acting. Del Toro just appears out of place here. Hopkins is ever worse. In the early scenes, he seems bored, and is boring to watch. As we head towards the finale however, he decides to go wildly over the top, and he throws the whole movie off course. Considering he is in the Claude Rains role, who walked away with the first movie, his performance is even more disappointing. Blunt is much better as Gwen. To a certain extent, she has a rather standard role as the damsel in distress, but at least she knows what kind of movie she is in, and plays her role the way it should be. Best of all is Hugo Weaving, who delivers his pulpy lines with verve and humor. When he is on screen - which isn’t nearly often enough - he steals it away from whoever else he is there with. He is wonderfully entertaining - if everyone had matched him, then The Wolf Man would have been a good guilty pleasure.

But the flaws in the movie go deeper than the performances. There is something to be said about black and white filmmaking adding to the creepy atmosphere of the original film. This one, which is obviously not shot in black and white, loses that atmosphere. In fact, the ability of the filmmakers to shot everything in more detail - the transformations, the violent attacks, etc take away from the atmosphere of the movie.

The Wolf Man is certainly not a bad movie. It is made with too much skill for that to be the case. But the acting and the lack of true atmosphere and suspense hurt it in the long run. As I mentioned at the top of the review, I saw the film two days ago, and already it has pretty much faded from my memory. That’s never a good sign.

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