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Written by Graham Reed  
Monday, 05 July 2004

Period Drama. Horror. Martial Arts. Religious Conspiracies. The French Revolution.  And more.....


"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is, pardon the pun, a strange and intriguing beast. If you try to imagine a period drama cum-horror martial arts religious conspiracy love story movie about the French  Revolution, you've only just touched on the surface. Now try to imagine a cross between "GLADIATOR", "SLEEPY HOLLOW", "THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW", "APOCALYPSE NOW", and the very best of John Woo (such as "Hard Boiled"), and you're in the right territory.


The basic premise is this: its France 1766, and a mysterious beast (presumed to be a wolf?) is slowly but surely preying on local peasants: the King , anxious to be seen to be protecting his servants, dispatches doctor and taxidermist Francon, with his companion the Navajo Indian Mani, to capture the beast and return it to Paris. All this serves as a backdrop to local power politics, culture clash, and an indeed scary monster that is used effectively, scarily and in moderation. The fact it could strike anyone at any time just seems to slowly creep up on you, and despite the first hour being slow and ponderous, all this set up is necessary.


There is little doubt in my mind that, along with "Taxi 2" proves that French Cinema can be just an innovative and entertaining as many a US blockbuster dreams to be. Had this film been made in America There's little doubt in my mind it would have turned out to be 3 or 4 times the $35 million it cost, but it seems like every centime is up on the screen, belying this films true price.


Had it been made in America It also would have been far more successful also, but don't let that, or its longish (140 mins) running time, put you off. Its intelligent, cerebral, multilayered, and well plotted. Nothing is exactly what it seems, and with kinetic, snappy action sequences from the same people who made much of John Woo's early, Hong Kong output so adrenalized, dramatic lush and lavish epic cinematography, makes this film well worth seeing at a big screen while you can. It may only be on limited release, but this is a film that will, even if no-one goes to see it at the cinema, surely pass into cult following on DVD and VHS before long. And it deserves it. 


Its dark and gothic (especially in the lighting), suitably epic and cerebral: shot through with colour saturation and slo-mo, with director Christophe Gans and from the editor of John Woo's masterpiece "Hard Boiled" using a full palette of tricks, dissolves, and fluid edits to crank this up with the best of Hollywood can offer.


Its far more effective than run of the mill formulaic cinema dross that gets greenlighted in Hollywood at the drop of a pin...(Can you imagine how they'd pitch this one?)..and far more entertaining. A cult classic, entertainment in a jar, and truly one of the most odd, yet oddly satisfying films, I've seen all year.


The DVD comes in a couple of formats - a single discer with a 17 minute featurette on the true story behind the tale, and a double discer with a 78 minute documentary on the making of the film as a HMV exclusive, pitched at 24.99; But if you are a real completist, try the Candian three disc edition...! But don't let that put you off - this film is bonkers, brilliant and criminally under rated. No one I know who has seen this film has come out disappointed...yet.


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