Friday, 12 February 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

* * *

(Dir. Benicio Del Toro, 2010)

A remake of the 1941 Waggner film of the same name, The Wolfman abides the same universal mythology. When exposed to the moon, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) transforms into a beast that is both man and wolf; imagine an athlete hairier than W.G. Grace, faster than Usain Bolt and fiercer than Mike Tyson. Set in 1891, Talbot has returned home to bury his brother, a wolfman-victim, only to be bitten and infected himself in another rampage in the local countryside. He has been absent from home since his mother passed away when he was a small child. We later learn that he spent time in an asylum, in what is perhaps the most terrifying sequence in the film, with Del Toro depicting a world before psychology has evolved as a discipline. Determined to find his brother's murderer, Talbot returns to living with father, Anthony Hopkins. As their relationship recommences, and as Talbot begins to fall for his dead brother's sympathetic fiance, Gwen Conliffe (a resplendent Emily Blunt), his terrible self-discovery deepens.

Cinemas around the world have been overflowing with films about vampires since Let The Right One In, my movie of 2009, and (sadly) the even more popular, Twilight, entered our consciousness. Differently, this movie's creatures have no means to their ugly ends. The wolfmen kill arbitrarily without the capacity for reason or the need for blood in high-tempo set pieces in the haunting rural nighttime, where the red of blood is gleaming for a screaming that never quite resounds. The sonorously lovable Hugo Weaving (The Lord of the Rings, V for Vendetta) is the officer in charge of eradicating the threat posed by wolfmen, and goes about his business ruthlessly. The eeriness and dispassion of his character has touches of his own, iconic Agent Smith, from The Matrix.

There are scenes where the Del Toro directing this movie is more Guillermo than Benicio, and this is an affectionate compliment. The bottomless mists, the fear-united public, the eloquently bullish score, and the X-Men-improved claws - as if derived from the worst nightmare of a riotous imagination - pull and push at the audience like horror ought to. Each homicidal chase is a minute-long theme-park-thrill, and every time Anthony Hopkins's eyes regress to Hannibal Lecter's, they sting like a double-dram of some untrustworthy spirit. Hopkins even walks like Lecter, those arms - capable of unimaginable cruelty - locked behind his back. When Talbot morphs into wolfman, the cinematography could be described as an anti-birth: a monstrous and regrettable becoming, stretched out bone-crunchingly across the silverscreen. This is truly trepidating stuff.

However, when we finally get to see wolf on wolf, the long-anticipated brawl at the film's climax, it is a let-down. For all the Hellenistic, Biblical and Shakespeare name-and-prop-dropping, the only tragic anagnorisis in
The Wolfman occurs within the audience, as we realise that the film's father-son duel, having been paradigmatically alluded to through extraneous references to Hamlet (well done screenwriters, you've read some Shakespeare), explodes in a fight scene that is closer to spoof than it is to palpable cinematic violence. It simply doesn't look right, knowing a seventy-two-year-old Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro are sparring as wolfmen. An alternate, ultra-violent ending to the beautiful Where The Wild Things Are would have looked something like this.

On the whole, this is a well-made and absorbable film. But don't be fooled by a pathetic fallacy that hearkens to Stoker and Mrs Shelley. This is an inconsistent picture, and when the illustrious filmographies of Hopkins and Weaving are complete for examination and celebration,
The Wolfman will have faded, a dim and forgotten star; not the full and awesome moon Benicio Del Toro has fashionably irradiated.

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