Damned If He Does, Damned… Oh, You Get The Idea.
“Constantine”, starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz, is the latest big budget movie adaptation of a comic book to hit the multiplexes. Receiving almost universal bad reviews and word of mouth, the film would seem to be a surefire bomb.
Perhaps because my expectation were so low, I actually thought “Constantine” was a good choice for a bargain matinee.
John Constantine (Reeves) is working overtime. Attempting to earn a ticket into Heaven, he travels throughout Los Angeles waging a one man battle against Hell’s demons. The demons are breaking through to the other side, upsetting the balance agreed upon by God and Lucifer. Angela (Weisz) runs into Constantine as they are both seeking guidance. Constantine is trying to convince the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), that he deserves to go to Heaven. She somewhat patiently explains that he can’t get in because he once committed suicide. Angela, a detective, is seeking the guidance of a priest over her twin sister’s suicide at a Catholic hospital. Soon, she convinces Constantine to help her figure things out as he wages his battle with the devil.
“Constantine” has a terrific, and more importantly, consistent look. Every scene is permeated with brown tones which give it the feel of old drawings or dusty, old books from a library. This theme is carried throughout to ensure that the look of the film stays consistent. As Constantine and his driver, Chas (Shia LaBeouf, trying to channel the spirit of comic sidekicks of yesteryear) travel from one location to the next, from day to night, the film keeps us rooted in it’s visual place. When the film moves the action indoors, most of the interiors are cramped and filled with millions of little objects, displaying an attention to detail that is not often shown in film today.
The story of “Constantine” is very complex and multifaceted. Yes, his main journey is to stop Hell from breaking through, but there are a lot of facets to the story that you might not expect. Both Constantine and Angela are deeply religious, which is why they are devoting so much effort to this journey. Along the way, we learn various things about each of them, which gives them a depth you also might not expect.
The performances from the supporting cast are more interesting. Pruitt Taylor Vince plays an alcoholic priest, Constantine’s minder, so to speak. If a demon is trying to break through, the priest knows about it, and sends Constantine in to clean up the mess. Tilda Swinton plays the angel Gabriel. Her character plays an interesting role in the overall picture. Gavin Rossdale (lead singer of the band Bush), plays Balthazar, Constantine’s main menace in the real world. His every moment is spent trying to make sure that Constantine does not win the battle or entry into Heaven. Peter Stormare plays Satan. Slightly effeminate, his role is very interesting. He seems attracted to Constantine, despite the fact that he has to do everything he can to stop him. Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz? Well, there’s zero chemistry between them, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Recently, I saw Keanu Reeves interviewed on a BBC America special before the 2005 BAFTA Awards. The poor interviewer! Most of the stars were very acomodating, but not Keanu. He would barely stop. As he tried to sweep past the guy, he was asked “How does this awards show compare to that of the Oscars?” Keanu’s response: “It is what it is.” Well, Keanu’s performance is what it always is. Keanu is always better when he doesn’t have to speak a lot of lines (“Speed”, “The Matrix”). If he doesn’t have to open his mouth, we can believe most of what we are supposed to believe. If he has to act, or emote, than we run into trouble.
My other big complaint is that I felt the character of Satan, as played by Peter Stormare, should have been more intelligent. He was interesting, but it seems fairly easy for Constantine to beat him. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but if a human being is going to battle against the devil, it seems like it should be a fight hard won.