Mark Reviews Movies

THE WOLFMAN

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody horror violence and gore)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 2/12/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 11, 2010

"Let the beast run free," dad tells son Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) just before Junior undergoes the painful transformation of becoming a werewolf. If one were so inclined, one could wax about the Sins of the Father in this case, but I'm more prone to raise heeding one's own advice.

Especially when dad is played by Anthony Hopkins, chewing through lines like the one above, and "Lawrence, you've done terrible things," and, in one scene, a recitation of the word "lycanthropy," as though they are a terribly overcooked steak and he is without silverware.

When Joe Johnston's update of the monster movie classic lets its beast run free, causing carnage through the moor surrounding the dilapidated manor of the Talbot estate and on the roofs and in the streets of London, The Wolfman is a lot of ridiculously bloody fun. A lot of fans complain about the lack of gore and the red stuff in their horror movies, but this one earns its R rating in dismemberments, decapitations, and eviscerations. Upon finding the scene of the werewolf/werewolves' victims, poor Fred Abberline (Hugo Weaving), still with the cloud of never catching Jack the Ripper over his head, is sure to find entrails by the former gut-load scattered about.

Hopkins knows how to play this material for the effect. He serves as a mirror to the primal elements of the story. Even if he's not literally a werewolf at the time, we are never in doubt that he could be one.

If Hopkins is going for exaggeration just short of ham, Del Toro and Emily Blunt, as Lawrence's monster-mutilated brother's fiancée Gwen, are playing the opposite spectrum, taking Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self's script's gloomy observations of cursed psychologies and moon-crossed lovers as serious. Del Toro plays a famous actor who has taken leave of a production of Hamlet and come home to investigate the brutal killing of his brother. It might be a Method extension of his character that, even when skipping stones with his newfound love, Del Toro looks as though he's holding poor Yorick's skull, but I hold to the argument that a Method approach to Shakespeare is wrong to the point of foolishness.

The same, then, can and perhaps should be said of a similar style for an update of a Universal Horror film. This movie is not about Lawrence Talbot; it's about the creature into which he turns on a full moon (which passes very quickly in the background as the characters meander in montage in the foreground). It's not about Lawrence holding on to the fear that he has once again lost his mind and emotional transference over the violent death of his mother as a child; it's about looking his psychologist right in the eye after the doctor has placed him in a room full of curious students on the wrong side of the lunar cycle and stating the obvious: "You moron."

In between scenes of terrible transformation and vicious violence, there's much melancholy and moping about, and while Talbot Manor may look the part of the desolate horror movie home, its cobwebs and disrepair are more about façade than feeling.

The movie finds its sense of playful humor when it veers away from these trappings, placing Abberline's self-appointed headquarters in a tavern, which he reasons is closest to the majority of the town's population, and finding homage with plenty of variation to the original.

The wolf-man of this movie uses visual effects for his transformation and ferocious attacks, but in close-ups, there are also the traditional elements of lots of spirit gum and lots and lots of fake hair. Del Toro's creature is clearly modeled after Lon Chaney Jr.'s in the 1941 original, and while that might seem self-defeating in our modern special-effects culture, it's an appreciated touch that works.

Also still sticking around are gypsies (whose bear is at first blamed for the deaths, in spite of their contention that "He dances!"), angry mobs, and silver bullets, which everyone knows they should use but rarely do for some unknown reason.

These are things we expect, and Johnston gets the tone right when they appear. The Wolfman even benefits from a late smack down between two werewolves. It, like the rest of the movie, might have been more crudely entertaining if so many people involved didn't try so hard to make it about more than werewolves running free. And, of course, wild.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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