Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

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*. Henry James famously described Victorian novels as “loose baggy monsters,” and I couldn’t help thinking of this when watching Brotherhood of the Wolf. Not because of the appearance of a loose baggy monster but because of what James was being critical of: the plot.
*. The story here is long, cumbersome, and full of pointless detail. The starting point for most of the initial reviews was to highlight how much of a mongrel it was. David Edelstein thought it “a movie that endeavors to moosh together every successful cross-cultural action picture ever made.” Roger Ebert: “Brotherhood of the Wolf plays like an explosion at the genre factory. When the smoke clears, a rough beast lurches forth, its parts cobbled together from a dozen movies.”
*. There are two problems with such an approach. In the first place, the movie risks turning into an anthology of clichés, as only the better-known elements from the various genres are quoted from. Everything is borrowed and nothing is new.
*. The second problem is that of coherence. How well do so many disparate parts fit together? Here: not so well.
*. I don’t mean in terms of not making logical sense. I have no trouble believing in a Native American who knows kung-fu, or even crediting the existence of whatever that creature is that they supposedly dragged back from Africa. What I can’t abide are the jumps from romance to horror to historical costume drama to political conspiracy thriller to action flick, with none of these genres being used to inform the others.

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*. Then there is the problem of length. The version I saw ran to 140 minutes, which I think is the shortest version out there. There’s also a 150-minute director’s cut. It must be awful. At 140 minutes I came away thinking that at least half an hour, and maybe as much as 45 minutes, should have been cut.
*. Am I just against long movies? No. But there were whole chunks of this one that were unnecessary. Monica Belluci is always easy to look at, but has almost no function here. And even though they had all the time in the world to explain it, the plot itself remained a mystery to me. At the end I still didn’t know what the Brotherhood were up to, or who they were. The fight scenes were overlong, repetitive, and gratuitous. Making things even worse, or giving another turn to the rack, director Christophe Gans can’t resist grinding things down into slow-motion every few minutes, for no reason at all that I can see.
*. I didn’t care for Gans’s direction at all. He seems to have only two strings to his bow: (1) the aforementioned slow motion and (2) crane shots. He indulges both over and over again. Like everything else in Brotherhood of the Wolf, they get old in a hurry.
*. As for the beast, I thought that it was an interesting and somewhat original-looking critter, but the CGI is terrible. Then again, it was 2001.
*. It did well at the box office, for being a foreign film, but aside from looking pretty in a fittingly fairy-tale sort of way I can’t think of anything to recommend it. It’s a cheeseburger of a flick, covered in “the works.” I didn’t come away impressed by the fact that they can make cheeseburgers like this in France. A royale with cheese, I heard someone once say.

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