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Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

The Wolfman

Solid acting helps wayward plot

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Through a foggy forest of bare branches, over cold ground where twigs snap underfoot like broken bones, runs a man carrying a lantern. “Show yourself!” he cries into the darkness. Moments later the blow of an unseen creature fells him, fatally wounding him with its razor claws.

The Wolfman gets off to a smashing start, and as it lopes toward its climax, it’s possible to see the film that someone must have originally intended to make. The revival of the classic 1941 horror movie endured two directors, a script rewrite while in progress, weeks of re-shoots and interference on all sides from some of the dumbest minds working in Hollywood today. As a result, it gushes with needless blood and pointless gore as the plot goes berserk. The Wolfman as Oedipal melodrama?

Fortunately, the film is anchored by strong acting all around. Already looking a little wolfish under dark, thick, matted hair, Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot—the prodigal son of remote Talbot Manor bitten by a werewolf when the moon waxes full—with an inner trauma worthy of Montgomery Clift. Anthony Hopkins endows Lawrence’s father, Sir John, with unwarranted Shakespearean grandeur. Emily Blunt gives a Masterpiece Theatre-worthy rendition of Gwen, the woman who hopes to redeem the beast in the man through love. Even the supporting cast is top drawer. Art Malik, virtually invisible under a turban and profuse beard, plays Sir John’s faithful Indian retainer, Singh, and Hugo Weaving is altogether recognizable as Inspector Abberline, the same historical character played by Johnny Depp in From Hell.

Transposing the story to the 19th century was a fine idea, giving the art directors the opportunity to create settings reminiscent of those old British Hammer Studio horror flicks. Among the strong cinematic moments is a montage of Lawrence’s mad visions while enduring the scientifically sanctioned sadism of a London insane asylum. But the overall impression left by the harebrained story is that the producers were howling at a full moon while making key decisions. Pass the wolfsbane, please.
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