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.
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
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.