Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review - The Wolfman

Limping apologetically into cinemas after a notoriously protracted and problematic shoot, The Wolfman is a film that seems to be defeated almost before it has begun. Having lost the original director Mark Romanek, the project ended up in the unimaginative hands of Joe Johnston, and that's just the beginning of the film's problems. Everything about The Wolfman feels rushed, half-assed and unfinished; the film constantly seems to be pulling in two directions at once – is it a restrained moody horror, or an all-out gorefest? – and it would take a more capable filmmaker than Johnston to make sense of it all. It lurches from one scene to the next without ever establishing a consistent pace or tone, and it wastes a leading man who seemed so perfect for this part.

That's the biggest frustration for me, the fact that Benicio Del Toro seemed like the ideal choice for this role. He's such a magnetic actor, and one who can bring a wild, feral edge to his performances, so it is somewhat bewildering to watch him plod through this movie in such a somnambulant mood. He seems tentative and unsure as Lawrence Talbot, who is a surprisingly passive figure for so much of the film. When he isn't covered in fur and tearing people to pieces, Del Toro's delivery is flat and his demeanour subdued, making Talbot an extraordinarily dull protagonist. There is supposed to be a sense of tension between him and his father (Anthony Hopkins) – with daddy issues, naturally, being a key plot point in the lazy screenplay – but there is no spark between them, as Hopkins once again serves up prime ham instead of anything resembling proper acting performance. In fact, there's an enormous disparity between the performances turned in by the whole ensemble, with Emily Blunt trying vainly to illuminate an underwritten role, Geraldine Chaplin grimacing and staring as a gypsy mystic, and Anthony Sher delivering a truly embarrassing display as a psychiatrist (I think it's supposed to be funny). The only actor who even comes close to finding the right note is Hugo Weaving, who plays his part with a wry sense of self-amusement, but his character is pushed into the margins too often to really make an impact.

The Wolfman could do with a little more of Weaving's dry sarcasm, in order to punctuate the air of dreary monotony that pervades the picture. Johnston's lame attempt to create a spooky atmosphere consists of shrouding the night scenes in mist and frequently cutting away to the full moon, before having something leap out of the shadows. He throws in these jumpy moments with the regularity of a metronome, but for all of the limbs ripped off and blood spilled, The Wolfman is never scary. In fact, it is often stupendously boring, and two days after seeing the film, I can barely remember a single scene that stands out for being original or exciting. The script follows a predictable template, and from the moment we discover Sir Talbot's own propensity for lycanthropy, we simply sit back and wait for the anticlimactic father-son duel, with two barely distinguishable beasties knocking lumps out of each other until one falls down – but who the hell cares by this point? The Wolfman is empty, clumsy and completely inert. It is a mongrel of a film, and the scars of its troubled production are all too visible.