October 25, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolfman
starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving
directed by Joe Johnston
screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker
Universal Pictures (2010)

I'm not exactly sure if it was Benicio Del Toro's acting ability that won him the starring role as the Wolfman Lawrence Talbot or rather his mildly disturbing facial features. If I were unfamiliar with him as an actor and someone showed me a photo of him, I'd presume him to be a retired boxer--and a poor one at that. I contemplate the choice in casting Del Toro only because of his awkward sounding American accent throughout the film. If the effect wanted is that of a man clumsily disguising a Spanish accent then mission accomplished, otherwise it is a distracting and detracting quality to his performance and the movie as a whole.

Lawrence Talbot is a tormented character from the start. He's a somewhat jaded actor on tour with a Shakespearean troupe when he receives word his estranged brother has been murdered by either a highly unusual and uncategorized animal or a raving madman lurking in the woods of his home. Upon returning home and the cold welcome of his father (Anthony Hopkins), Talbot is bitten by the same creature that killed his brother and has ravaged the village. In no time he's succumbing to the infection passed onto him by the werewolf and he himself becomes a monster that wreaks havoc on the land.

Perhaps it is as simple as returning to a character and a mythical creature that is so familiar and well-worn that made me give this film a tepid response. Or maybe it's how I thought while watching the movie that no one was really trying to make a great film--only trying to play dress-up. The set pieces are gorgeous, I will grant that much, and I'd encourage people to watch the film simply to admire the appeal of a gothic period piece. But the languid performances by the main players of the cast and much of the supporting cast sapped my enthusiasm within the first half-hour of the film.

It's always fun to see Anthony Hopkins on screen, but it has reached a point that I wonder if he's either not trying anymore or if he's simply been typecast in such a way that he can't branch out anymore. Emily Blunt as the fiance to Talbot's brother appears as such a feckless maiden she feels more like a part of the scenery than a character. As for Hugo Weaving, well, I was left unfairly comparing his role as the Scotland Yard detective to his role as The Matrix's Agent Smith, but with a heart.

In terms of blood and violence, I surprised at how much of it there was. I had falsely assumed the movie would rely primarily on establishing mood through the atmosphere of the sets, with fog billowing and candles flickering. There's much of all that, but the gore is front and center too. Aversions to blood, bones, and entrails will not be appeased. If I'm to offer a glowing compliment to the film it is that the CGI effects that are used in the transformation between man and wolfman and back again were quite seamless and didn't cause me to reengage my disbelief. I was also very happy to see the wolfman as just that and not a overgrown mutt a la every other movie with a werewolf. Granted, there are a couple of scenes where it looks like a wookie has mated with a Care Bear.

It's not a terrible movie and there are certainly worse choices to make when looking for some festive viewing for Halloween, but it is a movie that falls well short of the mark of what it could have been. I wonder if Jonathan Maberry's novelization of the film would cause me to enjoy the story more.

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