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July 2, 2009

13

Movie Review – The Crow (1994)

by NIR SHALEV

the_crow

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.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. jason
    Jul 3 2009

    The soundtrack was a must have during the release of the movie at the time.

  2. Nir Shalev
    Jul 3 2009

    Yes it was. I still own the soundtrack and the original score.

  3. Helen
    Jul 3 2009

    I liked all the things you praised, but the reason I went back to see it a second time in the theater was the action. The fights, chases, and pretty much anytime the Crow was on the move across rooftops were intensely thrilling seen on the big screen. Direction, choreography, performance, cinematography, art direction, music – everything contributed and worked together perfectly in those sequences.

  4. Nir Shalev
    Jul 3 2009

    I was just 12 when the film came out. I remember that I was sick and my mom let me order a movie on cable and I chose “The Crow”. I have never forgotten it since and wish that I could have seen it in the theatres.

  5. jason
    Jul 3 2009

    Once again Lang’s Metropolis shows it head with the city design and the ending with the fight on top of a Church (also Burton’s Batman).

  6. Nir Shalev
    Jul 4 2009

    And Alex Proyas’s greatest masterpiece to date “Dark City”.

    There are many reasons as to why Metropolis (1926) is one of my favourite movies of all time and this is one of them.

  7. Helen
    Jul 4 2009

    I’m dating myself… I hasten to add I was only in high school…

    Seriously though, this is one of the movies that keeps me going to the theater instead of waiting for DVD, especially for any film where the visual design is important and for all action movies and suspense films. I have seen The Crow on DVD and enjoyed it very much, but have never re-captured the sensation of being swept along by the (visual-action-sound) current that I had when I saw it in the theater.

  8. Nir Shalev
    Jul 4 2009

    I felt that way about “Dark City” when I first saw it in theatres. That and Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds”. I was honestly shaking slightly when the tripods first came out of the ground and emitted that horribly creepy sound.

    So when do we get a Transformers 2, “one star” review uploaded? I’m only asking because that is one film that I am never going to watch…

  9. Helen
    Jul 6 2009

    You’ll have to turn to one of the critics who’s paid to review movies he doesn’t want to see, as the whole team shares your sentiments! For the next best thing, you can read Geoff’s one star review of the first Transformers movie.

  10. Nir Shalev
    Jul 6 2009

    lol

    Thought so.

  11. Helen
    Jul 12 2009

    Your review reminded me I hadn’t watched this in a long time, so I popped it into the DVD player last week. I don’t know how I could have forgotten those fantastic traveling shots as the camera flies with the crow (the bird) through the urban canyon. I’d also forgotten how much good dark comedy dialogue there is, especially in conversations with Hudson’s cop.

  12. Mar 25 2011

    I came across your review because I have just started my own movie blog, I thought that the first movie I was to talk about had to be The Crow. When this movie first came out in 1994, I was working at Warner Brothers in Portugal (where I came from) as a pop corn girl and every lunch break I was use to go and sit in to catch one or other scene. I watched this movie at the cinema 7 times, and since it came on video and then DVD I have seen it a total of 65 times… call me crazy but this movie for me is the best, most beautiful, dramatically romantic movie ever! Eric Draven’s revenge is justified and the love for Shelly keeps him focused. What I like about this movie is that even thought it is a very dark, violent movie, you can always see the light in Eric’s soul, when he is with Sarah, how he speaks to Darla and even when he talks about how he thought things Shelly liked where trivial. I love this movie, I haven’t seen anything as romantically dark since! great review!

  13. Helen
    Mar 27 2011

    Now that is a serious movie love affair! You put it very well when you describe it as romantically dark.

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