Movie Review – The Crow (1994)
by NIR SHALEV
The Crow opens with narration: “People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, when something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can’t rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong thing right.”
Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) are a couple in love and who are about to get married. One night, on the night before Halloween, a group of criminals enter their apartment, brutally beat and rape Shelly and throw Eric out of the window of the sixth floor. In this city, everyone calls the day before Halloween Devil’s Night.
One year after the couple’s murder a crow lands on Eric’s tombstone and Eric finds that he’s awake again. Not even able to speak, he screams into the rainy night and stumbles down the wet streets until he finds his old apartment. Whenever he touches something that he used to own, memories of himself and Shelly spring to mind and anger him further. He eventually cannot take it anymore and dresses for war. He wears all black clothing and paints his face like that of a mime for two reasons: 1) it’s now his war paint and 2) he must mask his current existence and face. The mask of drama and comedy is now present on his face and others refer to him as a clown, but he’s on a mission of revenge and blood will flow in the gutters until he is satisfied; then his love for Shelly can rest with him in eternity.
This is director Alex Proyas’ American film debut and he supports the revenge quest with a very powerful love story. Eric and Shelly were separated when their love was at its most potent. Eric exists in pain through the memories of his and Shelly’s unbreakable love for one another and he tracks down the men responsible for the assault and murder and kills them all one by one.
The streets of this fictitious city resemble Los Angeles and New York, but contain European, gothic architecture and all the buildings are painted black; as if the essence of the brickwork is darkness itself. Proyas had the city built in its entirety as a miniature model and that allowed him to portray beautiful shots of the crow flying in-between buildings while the camera freely followed it. We get plenty of those tracking and flying shots and we feel the atmosphere of a comic book.
Of course the main reason the comic book feel is present is because this film is based on James O’Barr’s original comic book from the 1980s. The book was drawn and inked almost entirely in black and white. O’Barr preferred that to a color palette because it showcased the gritty feel of the city that is the setting for Eric’s revenge. The only parts of the comic that are in color are the flashbacks that Eric has, because that was a time in which he and Shelly existed and actually lived. The main story in the film is not in black and white but it is in dark, muted colors; except for red which is bright like flames.
In a behind the scenes segment for the film Brandon Lee says he wished the film was shot in black in white save for the flashback sequences. Brandon Lee is famous for being Bruce Lee’s son and also for having died at a young age on the set while making this film. He was 28 years old and a gun containing live ammunition instead of blanks had ended his life. Most people remember this as Brandon’s one great film because of its story, visual beauty, and his phenomenal performance. He was an educated person, studied in literature and classic films and was a really good actor. This performance of his is very restrained and gentle, but he is ferocious when he needs to be.
Ernie Hudson plays Sergeant Albrecht who knows Eric and Shelly because he was at the scene of the crime of their murders and because he spent thirty hours with Shelly in the hospital until she passed away. His character is very caring, but authoritative, in juxtaposition with Eric’s. And Michael Wincott plays Top Dollar, the criminal mastermind behind all the arson, robberies, and murders that plague the city. Michael Wincott‘s gravelly voice is essential for portraying his character with evil authority and he wears almost Victorian-like clothes. He owns the city and organizes Devil’s Night and scared the city’s citizens into accepting his authority. It is only a matter of time until Eric would meet with him and they would battle to the death.
This film is another personal favorite of mine, me being an avid Alex Proyas fan and the fact that it’s a gorgeous looking “dark” film. The performances carry a certain theatrical flair to them and most of the characters are evil or perform evil deeds. Even Eric becomes a killer. This is a gothic dream mixed with beautifully rendered nightmares and imagery that will not be forgotten for a long time.