Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Wolfman

Movie Name:
The Wolfman
Year of Release: 2010
Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik, Roger Frost, Nicholas Day, David Schofield, Clive Russell, Antony Sher, Ian Peck
Genre: Horror, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"The Wolfman" was a passion project for actor/producer Benicio Del Toro. It had somewhat of a choppy path to the screens, with the initial director Mark Romanek exiting due to creative differences, and quickly replaced by Joe Johnston (known for "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", "The Rocketeer" and "Jumanji"). The narrative is focused on Lawrence Talbot, a well known actor who returns home upon being informed by his brother's fiancĂ©e, Gwen, of the disappearance of his brother Ben. Upon arrival, his father Sir John, informs him that the mutilated body of Ben has been found. The locals believe that a werewolf is involved in the killing. Lawrence has some past trauma related to his mother's death, and his father's involvement in it, which resulted in him having to be interned in a London hospital for a year. While investigating his brother's death, Lawrence visits a Gypsy camp that is then attacked by a werewolf. As a result Lawrence gets bitten, and some immediately state he should be killed before he kills others. An Inspector from London in the meantime appears, Francis Aberline, to investigate the series of deaths which have occurred. Lawrence sends Gwen back to London, and during the full moon transforms into a werewolf, killing a series of townsfolk. He's taken back to London and the hospital where he originally was held, under the treatments of a sadistic doctor. His father eventually visits him and tells him the truth about the death of his mother and Ben. As the full moon rises, Lawrence is once again unable to stop the transformation from occurring. 
After tackling the third chapter of the "Jurassic Park" franchise, and the Viggo Mortensen vehicle "Hidalgo", director Joe Johnston paused for a few years before tackling "The Wolfman". The film features a script written by Andrew Kevin Walker (from David Fincher's "Seven", Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" and Joel Schumacher's "8mm" fame), with additional polishes/rewrites by David Self, and is an adaptation/remake of the original George Waggner film (from 1941), written by Curt Siodmak. This update sadly never manages to erase the status of the original, which became part of Universal Studios' aptly titled Universal Classic Monsters (alongside Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera and The Mummy). Joe Johnston's most successful features are always the ones where his central heroes are placed in unexpected and challenging situations, but where by their sheer effort and charisma, overcome their foes and those dire situations. His heroes are also not your typical embodiment of what a dashing super hero is: they're every day individuals who have to rise to the occasion. That has been the case with "The Rocketeer", "Captain America: The First Avenger", and even "Jumanji". All these films also manage to have a certain levity and humor to them, something that "The Wolfman" certainly lacks. The film is successful in terms of having a gothic type of aesthetic, but that in itself speaks more of its art direction, and less so of the actual environment of doom and gloom the director manages to create. The characters themselves don't benefit much from this fresh take by the screenwriters: Lawrence is tortured by what happened with his mother and his resent of his father, but very little is expanded on who he actually is beyond that. Same thing goes for his father, Gwen or even inspector Aberline. They're all fairly limited in terms of exposition and of who these characters actually are. The film takes an interesting turn when Lawrence is sent back to the mental facility, but that is only explored for a few minutes, before giving way to more action and mayhem set pieces. It's a film where the material simply doesn't marry the point of view of this director, where there's little humor, one where it needed someone who could effectively marry the tragic aspect of the story (the beast within), with the love bond that emerges between Gwen and Lawrence (which appears a bit rushed in this film). The cast tries their best at handling their characters, with Benicio Del Toro and Hugo Weaving creating solid characters, leaving Anthony Hopkins to go a bit overboard (he does not go for Jack Nicholson's vibe in Mike Nichols' "Wolf" for sure) and Emily Blunt with a thankless part. The cinematography from Shelly Johnson is solid, as is the production design from Rick Heinrichs, costumes from the fantastic Milena Canonero and score from Danny Elfman. It's not a bad film, it's just one that feels rushed, and where the material definitely doesn't gel with its author.