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February 18, 2010

7

Movie Review – The Wolfman (2010)

by NIR SHALEV

The Wolfman (2010)

I haven’t seen Universal’s 1941 classic The Wolf Man upon which The Wolfman is based, so I will review this new movie without drawing comparisons. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is an expatriate English actor who became famous touring America, performing in Shakespearean plays. He is performing in London when he receives a letter stating that his brother Ben is missing. Upon arrival at his family’s country estate, he is informed that Ben had been murdered and two potential classes of killer are suspected: a large beast with claws or an escaped lunatic from an asylum. Lawrence appoints himself as detective and follows clues, asks questions in town and even investigates the nearby gypsy camp where he is attacked and bitten by a large wolf. Audiences will immediately guess that, because Lawrence had been bitten by a werewolf he will eventually become one himself and they would be right. But that’s only the beginning.

Lawrence’s father Sir John Talbot (Sir Anthony Hopkins) lives in a colossal, aging mansion. Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) is also staying there. The mansion itself is a sight to behold: the tiled floors are littered with leaves (much like in Jean Epstein’s La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher)); it is candle and oil lit, as it is turn of the 20th century; and is quiet and gothic in a gorgeous, creepy aesthetic.

Sir John might be a lunatic but that’s all a part of Hopkins’ charm. Gwen mostly keeps to herself. Even though she’d deeply cared for Ben she finds herself slowly falling for Lawrence.

Upon the following full moon Lawrence transforms into a “wolfman” and massacres a group of villagers parading as werewolf hunters. The transformation is cringe-inducing. We see and hear his bone structure rearrange, the skin stretches and darkens, hair grows everywhere. The Wolfman character design is similar to that of Lon Chaney Jr.’s in the original Universal version (I saw photos so I can compare that much!) and Del Toro also resembles Lon Chaney Jr. The transformation is mostly done with CGI and the film in its entirety has a good combination of practical and computer generated effects throughout.

Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Abberline, who ventures into town after the gypsy campground massacre. He immediately suspects Lawrence of being the potential escaped lunatic/murderer and once witnessing Lawrence’s transformation into the Wolfman he chases after him regardless. For whatever reason Abberline chooses to chase Lawrence, he becomes the film’s protagonist and is a really fun one to watch. He resembles his character of Agent Smith from The Matrix (1999) and is also the comic relief, which ironically is a part of his natural character.

The music, eerie and resembling a mixture of the scores for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and Peter Jackson’s King Kong was done by Danny Elfman. His score was initially rejected, apparently for being repetitive and he was replaced by Paul Haslinger. Then his score was rejected and Elfman, having finished working with Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland (2010) was re-hired. Personally, I’d say Elfman was the right choice from the beginning. This film had been in production since 2008 for a reason but the end result is more than satisfactory.

Much like other werewolf movies this one easily earns it “R” rating by showcasing a ton of gore; Lawrence as the Wolfman dismembers, disembowels, and decapitates a lot of people. A lot of blood, limbs and guts are shown.

On a closing note, this film lacks a real emotional core. Even though this resembles Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1993) in the way that it ultimately boils down to a woman falling for a beast and true love being the only way for the beast to be released from its curse, that’s not the major aspect of the film. (The film also visually resembles Bram Stoker’s Dracula in its gorgeous filmmaking style.) The cinematography, art direction and costumes, and overall bravura atmosphere is what makes this film a winner. Interiors are shot dimly but strategically simulate natural lighting, through the use of candles and oil lamps, and every prop visible belongs to the period of a gothic and melancholy Victorian England. This film is so gorgeous to look at that I recommend one goes to see it just to see it. The way the forests were lit at night is so terrific that… well I wouldn’t want to spoil it. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

3 stars


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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Feb 18 2010

    It is an incredibly good-looking movie. The art direction and cinematography are fantastic. Absolutely worth seeing just for the visuals.

    That said, it was really disappointing as drama/horror. We’re presented with a number of potentially interesting story lines and relationships, but none of them are developed, at least not in more than a cursory fashion. It seems like such a waste to assemble a cast like this and then give them so little to sink their teeth into.

    Pun intended. ;)

  2. Nir Shalev
    Feb 18 2010

    Yup. But I didn’t even mind that because it’s such a gorgeous film.
    And Del Toro was miscast but was a part of the project from the start because he loved the source material and really did resemble Lon Chaney Jr.

  3. Helen
    Feb 18 2010

    Why do you say he was miscast?

  4. William
    Feb 18 2010

    I don’t think he was quite miscast; he seemed to love the role… and being a producer, he could get the role he wanted. :)

    I was almost heart-wrenched watching the amazingly uni-dimensional role Hopkins played; I expected so much more from him. It was ironic, though, that he was so controlled throughout the movie until the very end. Perhaps I just wasn’t prepared to see him in such a subdued supporting role. With the remaining interesting plot lines and possibilities flashed by but not exploited, I was left cold.

    That seeming let-down completely blinded me to the cinematography, that on hindsight, was gorgeous. Being a history nut, I was able to appreciate the settings and accouterments of the Victorian Age, and almost giddy at the wealth of items in the Antique shop.

    Being my first (?!) “major horror” film, perhaps I was not prepared to enjoy the movie for its own sake. I would watch it again, but probably not in theatres.

  5. Nir Shalev
    Feb 19 2010

    He was miscast in the way that he wasn’t performing much throughout the film. He just had a blank look on his face the entire time and when he was changing he was a tad over the top. And not Nick Cage/Bad Lieutenant over the top, more like Nick Cage/Wicker Man (remake) over the top. I thought that he wasn’t taking the role too seriously.

  6. Helen
    Feb 19 2010

    @William: Thanks for the comment! Always good to get another perspective in our discussions. :)

    @Nir: I can see where you’re coming from, but I’m inclined to lay much if not most of the blame at the feet of the scriptwriters. There just wasn’t much to the characters. Del Toro was at even more of a disadvantage than the rest of the cast, being asked to play “tortured hero” without any good dialogue-based scenes! Anyway, even though his performance wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be going in, I still think he was a good casting choice for a wolfman for his brooding aura and hulking physical presence.

  7. Nir Shalev
    Feb 19 2010

    Physically, Del Toro fit the role well. It is simply ironic, like you said how the writing left nothing for him to do and so when he tried hard, it seemed weak. I liked Hopkin’s insane father and I really liked the werewolf fight at the end.

    But the forest at night sequences were so gorgeous… :OÞ

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