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Brotherhood of the Wolf
2001 - R - 142 Mins.
Director: Christophe Gans
Producer: Richard Grandpierre, Samuel Hadida
Written By: Christophe Gans, Stéphane Cabel
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Mark Dacascos, Monica Bellucci
Review by: David Rolston
   

Lez get ready to, how you say... le Rumble
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is a bombastic frenetically paced French film that gleefully borrows from the Horror, martial arts, and historical costume genres, managing to blend these ingredients in an authoritative and thoroughly crowd pleasing fashion that will appeal to most audiences in search of a good old matinee style movie. The film is based on events which transpired in Lozere France (an area of countryside south of Paris) from 1763-1767, and about which there remains an unresolved mystery. What is known is that something attacked, killed and ate around 100 people, many of them women and children. What the beast was and how it came to be there has been debated ever since, and the story of "la Bete" the "Beast of Gevaudan" continues to be one of the most infamous and mysterious in the annals of French history and the subject of numerous books, while at the same time remaining virtually unknown outside of France. Or at least that was the case prior to the release of this film. Brotherhood of the Wolf uses elements from the historical record of the incident as a jumping off point for a fantastical adventure film, yet still manages to incorporate the political and social context of the period and a number of the most prevalent conspiracy theories.

The hero of the film, Gregoire De Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is a retired soldier and naturalist dispatched by King Louis the 15th to aid the townspeople in hunting down and killing what is suspected to be a large rogue wolf. Le Bihan is accompanied by Mani (American Mark Dacascos), a Mohawk Indian he befriended during his time spent fighting in the French and Indian war. Director Christophe Gans sets the tone from the outset, opening with a dazzling fighting sequence on a rain swept pasture where Mani combats a gang of surly townsfolk who are beating an aged gypsy man and his daughter. The scene is replete with fancy pole fighting, and slow motion blows, letting the audience know immediately that this is not going to be a stodgy masterpiece theater episode. Depending on your point of view, this is either the strength or weakness of the film. It would be impossible not to notice the many influences it wears on its sleeve from Jaws to Raiders of the lost ark to John Woo to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to The Matrix, and it's unabashedly out to entertain you, using any means available. The elements seem to have been ordered ala cart from a sushi restaurant. Some kung fu fighting. Check. Some suspense, check. Some French religious conspiracy, check. Some hot babes. Check. A giant scary monster, Check. It’s an outlandish ungainly Frankenstein monster of a film, and yet it works, and looks fantastic doing so.

Like any respectable historical bodice ripper, Brotherhood of the Wolf has numerous landscape shots of darkened forests, men on horseback crossing stormy countryside, and candle lit French castles. Gans and Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen know how to construct an action sequence, while at the same time are unafraid to embrace their inclinations to drop in a shot here and there that does nothing more than make one's jaw drop at the awesome beauty of pristine French countryside on a misty morning.
Despite the absurdity of its many cinematic contrivances, Brotherhood of the Wolf somehow manages in spite of itself to maintain a modicum of plausibility, and build genuine suspense and intrigue with the introduction of its capable cast including the versatile Vincent Cassel as the maimed aristocrat Jean-François de Morangias, Émilie Dequenne as his fetching sister Marianne, and Monica Bellucci as the dark and dangerous prostitute Sylvia. The cast is chock full of competent French actors, so much so that it seems that everyone in the town seems to have some secret, ulterior motive or agenda, and the story if you can follow it, keeps you guessing between the set pieces. Le Bihan as Gregoire is the only sore spot, saddled with a distracting wig, his rubbery face seemingly incapable of emotion, and as the hero, he appears for most of the film to be sleep walking through it, in sharp contrast to his companion Dacascos who physically commands every frame in which he appears, despite having no dialogue whatsoever. This is not solely the fault of Le Bihan who was working from a script that casts him as the rational man who must confront superstition and fear with logic and science. The archetype makes for a great sidekick ala Peter Cushing in a Hammer film, or as Van Helsing, but not such a great central character. Naturally, Gregoire’s seemingly inevitable love affair with Marianne is much less intriguing than it should have been, but Gans never bothers to dwell on any single element long enough for a deficiency to drag things too far down. And like all good monster movies the real star is the beast itself, merely hinted at for most of the film, and then portrayed economically in a number of breathtaking sequences that inspire real dread and awe.

"Le Pacte Des Loups" (the French title) is an old time popcorn munching adventure in the vein of similar matinee revivalist films like The Mummy, but with a touch more brains. It reminds us that there is nothing wrong with a movie designed for pure roller coaster style thrills and the intention above all else to entertain an audience for two hours. Come to think of it, there wasn't a movie I saw in 2002 that I enjoyed more.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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