Reviewed by Sean Decker
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Directed by Joe Johnston
Universal Pictures’ 2010 version of The Wolfman as directed by Joe Johnston (and let me be clear, this man made 1991’s The Rocketeer, which in my estimation makes him a bit of a directorial genius) is an unpredictable mutt. At times it is a visually sumptuous, updated love letter to the classic film which inspired it; at others it seems a muddled mess, as if ten cooks replaced one during the baking of a blood pie and attempted to swap out a few of its key ingredients during the process.
Benicio Del Toro portrays in this redux Lawrence Talbot (originally depicted by Lon Chaney, Jr., in 1941’s original The Wolf Man), an actor called home to his ancestral estate of Blackmoor, England, on the news of his brother’s disappearance. Lawrence’s familial reunion upon his arrival does little to allay his concern, as his icy father (Anthony Hopkins) – the two share an obviously fractured relationship, stemming from Lawrence’s witnessing of his mother’s suicide in his father’s arms years prior – informs him that the ravaged body of his brother has since been found. Throw into that mix Lawrence’s deceased sibling’s distraught fiancée (Emily Blunt), superstitious villagers, a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector who recently failed to stem the Ripper murders in London (Hugo Weaving), and Lawrence’s own dogged thirst for the truth; and we’ve got a Gothic powder keg waiting to go off.
The problem here with the cinematic realization of Kevin Andrew Walker and David Self’s script is that many of these subplots seem lost in the shuffle, with narrative threads introduced failingly or not at all, and certainly not explored to the depths of psyche which they seem intent to reach for. With seventeen minutes of excised footage that are apparently intended to be re-inserted into the first act of the film for the eventual DVD release, these problems may be solved.
The theatrical cut, however, seems harried, as if it can’t wait to get to the first creature transformation, and in doing so (the entire flick moves at a breakneck pace) does itself a disservice, as the audience is challenged to find an emotional connection with The Wolfman’s protagonists and antagonists alike. (Note: The production’s storied past, which includes a 13th hour director replacement, rewrites, re-shoots, re-edits, and audience and studio notes, is most likely to blame.)
In an effort to be not too “gloom and doom”, I couldn’t help but to adore Del Toro’s portrayal of Lawrence Talbot, in makeup and without. The actor is a self-professed fan of the original film, and his haunting homage to and portrayal of the cursed Talbot resonates. Shelly Johnson’s cinematography, coupled with the rich production design of Rick Heinrichs, too, steep the proceedings in an atmosphere loyal to its source material. And while this scribe found a good part of the CGI on-hand to be rather distracting (an “old school” transformative process would have been most likely appreciated given the material’s pedigree and the FX man hired), the pure ecstasy felt when Rick Baker’s practically realized wolfman appears onscreen in glorious and blood-spattered color far outweighs the former. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, and Baker lovingly recreates the original Jack Pierce design, while imbuing it with an updated ferocity that makes the creature a force to reckon with, as evidenced by the limbs that fly with often and wild abandon.
Is it a perfect film? In this writer’s opinion the answer would sadly be “no”, but undoubtedly Johnston’s The Wolfman will find a place on my shelf upon its home release to curl up with its alpha brother (George Waggner’s original) in preparation for an occasional howling double-feature.
3 out of 5
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