Brotherhood of the Wolf

This film contains as many genres as you can throw into two and a half hours. And despite the immeasurable danger of falling down flat (even with long stretches that contain little action), it remains a great looking, smoothly moving romp of action adventure the whole way through. Based on the legend of a mythical wolf-beast in seventeenth century France, it's mostly summed up by the tagline - 'Part Jaws, part Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, part The Matrix.

A huge wolf is killing women and children in rural France. The King, the army and local administrators are at a loss as to the origins of the legendary monster or how to deal with it. Enter Gregoire, a naturalist and adventurer, and his wise, silent Canadian-Indian sidekick and 'brother' Mani (straight-to-video martial arts star Dacascos), charged by the local gentry with tracking down the killer because of their wildlife expertise.

What follows is a full-to-bursting chase/action story full of slow-to-fast motion fighting, monster movie terror, and nearly endless romantic and political subplots. In a story so stuffed full, there are rough edges. The mystique the heroes generate in their introductory sequence (the artful fight in the rain while draped in full cloaks and tricorn hats that only reveal their eyes) evaporates straight away as Gregoire starts gallivanting with the palace babe and falling in love, together with other buffoonish behaviour you're sure will get him killed. The reason for the beast's existence isn't really made clear either - part of a string of (very) mild irritations that do little to take away from the thrills of the action.

I wonder if people who liked it would have been harsher if it was American - the native language was definitely part of the appeal (a bloody, French action/horror movie) as in Crouching Tiger. I know I'm more forgiving of stuff that doesn't come out of the Hollywood machine only because it represents welcome competition to that machine.

The French language seems to guarantee good acting - the sensuality and passion of simply speaking it shine on screen. Dacascos has a rare charisma and plays a great character. Belluci, as the mysterious and beautiful former lover of Gregoire, now a whore and undercover spy hunting the Brotherhood, makes the screen melt just being there.

In classic An American Werewolf in London tradition, we aren't shown the creature until near the end - a tactic that works (as always), building the horror for the audience along with the villagers. It also had great direction, with some highly stylised shots (to say nothing of the fight scenes) full of colour and strong imagery. A triumph, but not for the usual reasons. After this and The Transporter, bring on more Euro-action!

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