Sunday, September 25, 2005

Constantine & The Brothers Grimm

By accident I saw on consecutive days two films about fighters against the supernatural with Peter Stormare in supporting roles. No point, just lumping them together.

Constantine (Francis Lawrence 2005) is the lesser of the two. Actually it would probably be the lesser of anything you paired with it. Comics fans were annoyed at reports of changes to the original character (American instead of British, now in Los Angeles, no longer blond) and in the end the film Constantine is not the “real” Constantine. Instead of a genuine anti-hero--an abrasive, lying conman who leaves death and misery in his trail even if he does save the world--you get a brooding hero who is, well, rude. And has a sidekick. That’s about it. You see bits and pieces of familiar stories but it’s more a misfired Elseworlds tale. There’s a scene where Weisz’s character is about to get into a tub of water for a mystical vision and asks if she has to remove all her clothes. Turns out that’s not necessary and the film Constantine tells her so. The “real” Constantine would of course have said yes, stark naked, even--or especially--when it’s not required.

Now, admittedly Constantine unexpectedly turns out to be a moderately acceptable way to pass time but so what? The story barely makes a bit of sense and everybody except Stormare and Tilda Swinton declaims the dialogue like portentous statements just waiting for the stone engravement. Why set it in L.A. if pretty much no use is made of the city? Except for some helicopter shots it all looks like backlots anyway.

The Brothers Grimm (Gilliam 2005) takes a stab at being an essay on the nature of storytelling though it ends up primarily an exercise in set design. Any ten minutes of it are worth more than all of Constantine though in the end it doesn’t really achieve too much. The problem isn’t what Gilliam thinks he’s doing but that the connections are left unconnected. So Hans and Greta become Hansel and Gretl but why? Why Little Red Riding Hood if there’s no wolf? When does Jacob Grimm hear these stories? Did the French invasion actually trigger the supernatural elements? You can see Gilliam and scripter Ehren Kruger (most notable credit is the intriguing Arlington Road, most famous credits are the American Ring remakes) trying to contrast legends against theatre, children’s tales against reality, con artists against propaganda, but there needs to be more than just setting them up next to each other. That said, The Brothers Grimm looks great and is mostly light on its feet and sharply acted. Given a writer (or maybe just a script doctor) with a better sense of character it could have been a minor success.