So it is fortuitous that this review was requested. I had been wondering what I would review for todays post and this works out perfectly as the TV series just premiered friday as well. I am going on record saying when I first heard of this film – I refused to see it. Absolutely, Selene as my witness refused to even consider seeing this film due to the casting of Keanu Reeves as the titular character. I was a minor fan of the comic book character having enjoyed him in The Books of Magic and various other appearances with DC/Vertigo characters I knew and loved. I knew certain things of him were absolute.
- Chain Smoking
- Bi Sexual
Of Keanu’s things he can do in a film to portray the character, chain smoke. He technically could be bisexual, but the film didn’t address it. We saw the british accent once…yeah and it was laughable. This was one of the worst possible castings I have ever come across. I was resolute in my not seeing of this film until I was one day – almost literally – tied down and forced to watch it on DVD.
So how does it do once I take off the glasses of raw seething hatred?
Let’s take a poke at the director a moment. This was his first feature film. He had just come from being a music video director and went right into this. Since then he has given us I Am Legend (I’ll review that some other time when I am feeling the need to cut myself and do that instead), Water for Elephants ( I have no comment on this, I haven’t seen it), and The Hunger Games Catching Fire. Ok, so its clear he has evolved, but did he do a bad job here? Honestly – no. He does a good job of getting performances out of his actors and controls the shot in rather inspiring ways at times. He lets angles distort our perceptions and appropriately uses colour and the visual effects to maximum effect. There are a lot of good decisions here that show serious potential and I can see how he eventually directed Hunger Games. I can also sense a lot of studio interference.
When we talk about story we have characters created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis for the original comic and a story by Kevin Brodbin for this. Brodbin never got much work. He did the 1996 Seagal movie the Glimmer Man, this, and the woefully underrated Mindhunters in 2004. He took a stab at the screenplay and an additional writer was brought in to fix it up if I had to guess based on the second credit of Frank Cappello. I can’t imagine why he was brought in having really only done Suburban Commando before. Yet by their writing powers combined they actually nailed the essence of Constantine and the hidden world within our own. The movie probably has one of the best representations of a world within a world that normal people don’t or can’t see. I could watch this, The Craft, and Mortal Instruments and they almost fit seamlessly.
Ok, now this is where we usually talk about cast. I will get to Keanu last. We have a young Shia LaBeouf, mostly being Shia, but not entirely terribad. Moving on. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, a noted character in the Vertigo verse and he nails it with all of his usual charm and screen presence. He has weight and lets it go full throttle for this film. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) is our catalyst as a LA Cop with a british accent, possibly adding to my fury at Keanu, since they were able to obviously get someone from the UK into the film. While some of these cast members are interesting and do their best, nothing really compares to these two: Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. Swinton (Narnia, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive) is Gabriel, the archangel. She uses her vaguely androgynous looks to maximum effect and is both beautiful and offputting as an angel might be. She has some of the best dialogue in the film and devours scenery like someone coming off of a fasting. Peter Stormare as Lucifer? One of *the* best performances of this character I have ever seen. Talk about scenery chewing, nothing compares to this, nothing in this film anyway. Overall, he is up there against Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy for raw creepy pasta levels.
The visual effects in the film are remarkable strong for 2005 as well. Only one real effect is an absolute fail with the bug guy on Figueroa, aside from that there is a definite elegance on how they choose to evoke effects. The fire looks good from the Dragons Breath. The wings of demons flying by windows look good. The make up effects are *really* good, but of course they came from Stan Winston Studios and had bloody Ve “Face Off” Neill as make up department head. Even their vision of hell and the demons is not something I’ve quite seen before. Even the flying tracking shots, while a mix of cg and real work fairly well.
Now on to Keanu. Whew. I didn’t hate it. There I said it. I Didn’t hate it. While he still lacks most of Constantines charm and wit I blame that on script as much as acting. He still isn’t John Constantine, but he is the american cousin if he had one. He gets the sarcasm, the nihilism, and the chain smoking down. He gets people around him, friends, dying as par for the course, but the reality is he isn’t a bad Constantine. He isn’t great, but I will admit he got as close as the script, the studio, and his talent could allow. That of course is the downside, he isn’t great and was limited by his talent. Keanu is not charming. He doesn’t really have much in the way of charisma, even in John Wick he isn’t charismatic or charming but fun. Here we are missing some of the fun, and all of the charm.
From a purely comic book loyalty standpoint, they got a good Constantine story here. It fits, but they fubar’d the casting so badly that it was nearly unwatchable by the fanbase that could have supported the movie. If you take off those fandom goggles and just watch the film as an adaptation of John Constantine Hellblazer, then …and only then you might enjoy the film.
It is a better film than most give it credit for and Keanu is its greatest strength and weakness. He does pretty damn well for the role, but misses it just enough that it doesnt work. I do think people should give it a shot, but for the love of all that is holy in your life do not compare it to the source material. Consider it instead a Supernatural Mystery with Religious overtones.
So do I regret not seeing it in theatres? No. I think I would have hated it out of hand and never given it a shot for a decent review, coming back later I think I can be honest in saying Constantine: Not too bad actually.