I will be the first to admit that my history is not as sharp or as extensive as I would like it to be, but I am reasonably sure neither the French nor the Native Americans knew martial arts in the 18th century. Mind you, I could be wrong, but I’m quite sure I’m not.
The above statement aside, Brotherhood of the Wolf is quite an unexpected movie. I went into this film expecting it to be one thing but it turns out to be another entirely. Even after having seen its trailer quite a few times, I thought I had the movie figured out pretty well. After all, how many trailers have kept the “mystery” of a movie hidden, especially in the last few years, where “more” seems to be, well, more? Such is the state of movie trailers nowadays. That aside, Brotherhood is quite a good movie, although there were directorial choices by filmmaker Christophe Gans, the movie’s director, which is open to complaint.
Brotherhood starts off with a farm girl being mauled by an unseen creature in the French countryside. As previously stated, with my knowledge of French history and French geography being what it is (that is to say, almost nonexistent), I can’t tell you where the movie takes place, or is supposed to. Suffice it to say, we’re somewhere in the French countryside, where the agent of the French King has just arrived with his companion, a Native American name Mani (Mark Dacascos). How this Frenchman, Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) came to meet and befriend the Indian (Mani’s the last Mohawk of his tribe) is a mystery that is delved into as the movie progresses.
Fronsac claims to be “the King’s gardener” but he proves to be an excellent embalmer, a philosopher, as well as a hunter. Mani, on the other hand, doesn’t talk much and seems to be able to communicate with nature (How many Native American characters have you seen in the 20th century that can’t communicate with nature? It’s one of the more annoying stereotypes that seems to keep being repeated because filmmakers think it “honors” Native Americans.)
The two men are immediately thrust into the mystery of the countryside. A beast, an unseen creature (the locals believe it’s a wolf) is killing people left and right, and the local army is helpless to stop them. Fronsac himself is skeptical about the existence of such a creature. In fact, Fronsac seems more concerned with getting into the corset of the local royalty’s daughter than he is hunting a creature he doesn’t believe exists. The beast, it seems, has been making the King look very bad, and books are being published and stories told about the King’s inability to kill the beast. It isn’t long before Fronsac begins to sniff cover-ups all around him, from the King as well as from the locals. I won’t give away the movie’s plot-twist, but suffice it to say, the movie’s hunt for the “beast creature” is only a minor diversion, and there are other — as Sherlock Holmes like to say — mischief afoot.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is supposed to be based on a true story about a creature in the French countryside that murdered hundreds of locals before the King sent men to kill it. The movie’s first half is suppose to follow the tale very closely, until the beast is “killed,” at which point the movie begins its JFK-like fable: that is, its plots are no longer based on the creature legend, but is the “true and untold story about what really happened back then.” (For those not in the know, that means the writers are making up this part. Oliver Stone would be proud.) Telling more about the movie would spoil its surprise, so I’ll stop right here.
Direction by Christophe Gans, whose last work was “Crying Freeman” in 1995 (that movie, incidentally, starred Mark Dacascos as an assassin), is quite impressive most of the times. The French countryside has never looked better, even when it’s pouring rain or being assaulted by a large beast. That brings us to my problems with the movie. The beast, when we finally see it in action halfway into the movie, comes across like just what it is: a poorly done cgi “monster creature.” There is absolutely no realism to the creature as it jumps from cliff to cliff and splinters woods of all kinds like a raging rhino. This is a major problem with the movie, but fortunately for the film as a whole, the beast is only a minor character, and there are bigger fishes for Fronsac to fry.
Another problem I have with the movie is Gans’ insistence on using computer tricks to slow down and speed up the action at different intervals. Guy Ritchie did it quite often in his movies, but Gans seems so in love with the trick that he uses it on even the most absurd situations. Thankfully, Gans seems to fall out of love with the trick, only to come back to it in small spurts during the final fight. Other than that, Gans has shown tremendous growth since Crying Freeman and looks to be a director to watch in the future.
Acting is competent all around, although Vincent Cassel, as Jean-Francois, comes across as too cartoonish and ridiculous toward the end. Mark Dacascos is terrific as the silent but deadly Mani, and although his character is second fiddle to Bihan’s Fronsac, Dacascos makes the movie’s first half worth watching. Frankly, it’s almost absurd to see the movie focus so much on Fronsac’s courting of Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) while Mani is left to fight off soldiers, hunters, and the beast creature.
As Fronsac, Bihan is perfectly cast. He comes across as a waspy Frenchman in the beginning, leaving all the grunt work to Mani, and for a long time (most of the movie’s first half) we think he’s nothing but a dandy bureaucrat who visits brothels when he can’t get into Marianne’s corset fast enough. That is, until his transformation in the second half, when Bihan becomes unrecognizable from his first half self. (To understand the comment, pay attention to the movie’s title. “Brotherhood” means more than you think, and “wolf” has a lot to do with Mani.)
Of the supporting cast, the only standout is Monica Bellucci (“Malena”) as Sylvia, the high-priced hooker who works in the town brothel, who charms Fronsacs and is much more than she seems. Bellucci is mysterious, sexy, and is the only female character worth a mention. As Marianne, Emilie Dequenne is nothing special. She is supposed to be Fronsac’s love interest and the object of many men’s desires, but she comes across as jailbait — and one without much personality or any desirability. In fact, compared to Sylvia, Marianne is a royal bore.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a good movie, with a well-plotted story and some finely filmed action. Although it could have been much better, what there is is still pretty good.
Christophe Gans (director) / Christophe Gans, St’phane Cabel (screenplay)
CAST: Samuel Le Bihan …. Gr’goire
Vincent Cassel …. Jean-FranÃ§ois
Emilie Dequenne …. Marianne
Monica Bellucci …. Sylvia
J’r'mie R’nier …. Thomas d’Apcher
Mark Dacascos …. Mani