1 hour, 42 minutes
I can completely understand the appeal for big name Hollywood stars to put on the latex and fur and fake teeth to play a monster. It must feel kind of like Halloween. That would be fun to do after a whole raft of serious dramas or more emotional, character driven stuff. Plus, if the role in question is a classic movie monster, it makes fiscal sense as well, because your movie has a built in audience. Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman, and Tom Cruise, among others, have all traded on their fame and hollywood clout to play werewolves, vampires, and even Frankenstein's monster.
So, when I heard that the quiet, yet emotionally intense, Oscar-winning actor Benecio Del Toro had signed on to star in the remake of "The Wolfman," I was not a bit surprised.
Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, the man who, if you haven't seen the 1941 original, has an unfortunate run-in with a terrifying creature out on the English moors, and subsequently finds himself sporting six inch claws and baying at the full moon. This current version, directed by Joe Johnston, who brought us "Jurassic Park III" and "Hidalgo," maintains the 1890 British setting and casts Talbot as an American stage actor on tour in London, who returns to his ancestral home in the country to investigate the strange murder of his brother Ben.
Upon arrival, Talbot finds his father, a shaggy, slightly crazy looking Anthony Hopkins, and Ben's fiance Gwen, played by Emily Blunt. Determined to discover who or what killed his brother, Talbot gets too close for comfort with the beast while poking around at a gypsy camp outside of town. The camp is attacked and our hero is savagely bitten. When barely a month rolls by and our hero finds his wound completely healed, the townsfolk are understandably suspicious. And they have a right to be, for when the full moon rises, Talbot finds himself in the grips of a terrible transformation, the likes of which he can scarcely imagine.
The best thing about "The Wolfman" is the look. Johnston began his career as a production designer and art director for "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and it shows. The attention to detail is remarkable, from the buildings to the costumes, the lighting, and the look of the Wolfman himself, all top-notch.
In fact, the look and feel of the film is so good, that it may actually be a detriment, considering the acting doesn't come close to being on par. It's too bad, really. Del Toro and Hopkins are both award-winning actors, but neither shines in their roles here. I actually think Anthony Hopkins retired from acting several years ago, and just neglected to tell anyone. He just shows up for these roles, throws in a few crazy laughs, spouts a few enigmatic phrases in that rolling Welsh of his, collects a paycheck and goes home. I guess after 45 years in the business, if anyone's earned the right to phone it in, he has, but Del Toro doesn't have the same excuse.
And to be fair, I think it's more a problem of casting in his case. Benecio Del Toro shines playing subtle, modern characters, whose quiet outward appearance belie the emotional turmoil going on underneath. Period costume thrillers are not particularly subtle. The dialogue is more melodramatic and not necessarily natural. There are a few nice moments where he turns up the volume a little, but mostly he seemed out of his depth. Blunt, as the bereaved fiance who falls for both Talbot brothers, does a fine job, though there's not a lot for her to do. Best out of the cast is Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberline, a historical transplant character from the actual Jack the Ripper story.
Abberline is brought in to investigate when the rash of murders gets worse. Weaving is perfect in the role, and matches the atmosphere brilliantly with his deep voice and theatrical mannerisms.
Though it was more hit than miss, "The Wolfman" doesn't quite work. The problem is that Johnston tried to make this a movie for all audiences and wound up diluting the finished product. Fans of old-fashioned thrills and classic movie-making will be pleased just about until the first entrails start showing up. Fans of horror will wonder why there's not more. And both audiences will be disappointed in the clunky, run-of-the-mill third act.
Still, the look and feel of "The Wolfman" is almost worth the price of a ticket alone, and whether there's too much gore or not enough, the story itself is engaging.
Joe Johnston is a talented director, despite the fact that "The Wolfman" stumbles somewhat. His artistic sense is unparalleled, which is no surprise considering he mentored with two of the most successful fantasy filmmakers of all time, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Interestingly, it was Johnston who came up with the look of both Yoda and Boba Fett, according to IMDb. This director's star is on the rise -- his next project is the high profile comic book adaptation of Captain America, also a period piece, set in WWII. Let's hope that all the elements come together better in that film, though there's no doubt it's going to look great.
"The Wolfman" is rated R for bloody horror violence and frightening scenes.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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