A review by Jeffrey Overstreet
Director – Christophe Gans; writers – Stéphane Cabel and Christophe Gans; in French, with English subtitles; director of photography – Dan Laustsen; editors – Sébastien Prangère and David Wu; music – Joseph Lo Duca; fight choreography – Philip Kwok; production designer – Claude Albouze; creation and special effects of the Beast – Jim Henson’s Creatures Shop; producers – Davis Films, Le Studio Canal + and Eskwad. Starring – Samuel Le Bihan (Grégoire de Fronsac), Vincent Cassel (Jean-François de Morangias), Emilie Dequenne (Marianne), Monica Bellucci (Sylvia), Jérémie Rénier (Thomas d’Apcher), Mark Dacascos (Mani) and Jean-François Stévenin (Sardis). Universal Focus. 142 minutes.
Who’s afraid of the big bad Beast of Gevaudan?
There really is a story in the history books about a wolfish beast that crept about at night and devoured unfortunate peasants in 18th-century France during the reign of Louis XV. Brotherhood of the Wolf takes that obscure bit of history and runs with it, creating a violent, intense, bloody epic.
Two heroes ride into town to try to end the terror. Gregroire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a David Lee Roth look-alike, is a Frenchman sent by the king to hunt the animal. His friend is Mani, an Iroquois warrior that Gregoire befriended in America and brought to France. In spite of the racist attitudes of his countrymen, Gregroire respects Mani and admires his tracking instincts. They’re a formidable team, but the more they investigate, the more it becomes clear that they aren’t just fighting a monster; they’re fighting a conspiracy of dangerous men.
It’s definitely awe-inspiring. But this is not just another thrill-a-minute adventure with cool heroes and Matrix-style martial arts fighting.
While the scenery is great and the story compelling, this movie seems to beg for its R-rating with sex and violence that are the very definition of “gratuitous.” It’s the bloodiest movie to come along in quite a while, positively reveling in slow-motion footage of cruel violence. The camera worships the wrathful vengeance of its heroes; one even goes so far as to scalp an enemy and flaunt the bloody trophy. And scenes set in a brothel are laughably unnecessary, making the central storyline seem secondary to the movie’s primary intent: to indulge the lurid fantasies of adolescent boys. While the movie frowns on religious hypocrisy, it seems to count promiscuity among a hero’s proper virtues. The hero of this story feels free to sleep with any prostitute he likes, even as he’s trying to woo what he calls his “true love.” Isn’t there a conflict of interest there?
It’s not all bad. The performances are better than in your typical martial arts film. The cinematography would earn an Oscar nomination if Oscar-voters paid enough attention to foreign films. And the action is truly spectacular. While the editing chops up the scenes far too much, the choreography and acrobatics of the combatants are amazing.
Brotherhood is one of many period pieces that portray the Roman Catholic Church as a sinister body, carrying out great evil under the banner of God’s will. It’s worth mentioning that Christians have carried out gross evils in many of history’s darker periods, and thus artists have every right to portray the Church’s flaws. (I just wish they noticed all of the things that the Church does right once in a while.)
But it’s interesting that while the film writes off Christians, it goes on to tell a Christ story with its own symbolism. The hedonistic hero is promiscuous, arrogant, and hyper-violent, but he also lays down his life for his friends. And he is given a sort of symbolic death and resurrection before it’s over. It’s amusing that this movie delivers its narrow-minded generalizations about the evils of religion in the form of a Passion play that underlines our basic expectation of a hero who suffers in order to conquer death and save us from the Beast.
That’s not a recommendation, though. Brotherhood climbs staggering heights of implausibility, and shamelessly panders to the appetites of the immature.