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BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emile Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Mark Dacascos
Director:  Christophe Gans
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 (English and French)
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  Deleted Scenes, Talent Files, Production Notes, Trailer
Length:  144 Minutes
Release Date:  October 1, 2002

“If it wasn’t a wolf that attacked you, what was it?”

“…diablo…”

Film ***1/2

Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film that tries to be many things at once…that’s nothing new.  What is new, and rather refreshing, is that it succeeds.  It’s arguably both the year’s most gorgeous period film and the year’s most exciting action offering rolled into one…and that’s not even touching upon its elements of romance, spirituality, politics,  and mystery.  Oh, and horror, too…effectively crafted and presented.

It’s dynamite entertainment for its entire length.  Based on a true story of a legendary beast that terrorized the French village of Gevaudan around 1764, it killed women and children in horrible ways during a time of already rampant unrest.  By the end of the French Revolution, it was reported to the satisfaction of many that the beast was a wolf.  This film takes some of the historical facts and actual participants and suggests there was much more to the story than that.

The way the beast is handled in this picture might remind you of Jaws.  There is plenty of build-up where the creature is talked about rather than seen, and more effect is demonstrated than cause.  A description here, a sketch there…even a hospital dedicated to victims of the beast who survived:  the distant screams from it paint a macabre picture.

Two men are sent by the king to investigate the mystery.  One is Fronsac (Le Bihan), a naturalist and taxidermist who has seen and explained many strange phenomena in many parts of the world.  His friend and companion is Mani (Dacascos), an Iroquois Indian who is silent and spiritual, not to mention a helluva fighter.  They come to Gevaudan and meet several key (and historically accurate) figures, including Jean-Francois (Cassel), a one-armed man who is still deadly with a rifle, the beautiful Marianne (Dequenne), who becomes a love interest for Fronsac, and the strange gypsy-like Sylvia (Bellucci).

The story proceeds with three key ingredients:  the art direction, which offers lavish sets, beautiful costumes, and the stunning cinematography of Dan Laustsen, the action, featuring hard-hitting martial arts sequences choreographed in the old Hong Kong style, and the horror, which fills our imaginations with images of a beast that finally appears to be something we NEVER could have imagined.  All of these elements intertwine with the central mystery, which suggests that something very human could be behind the supernatural events.

I was consistently amazed at the cinematic juggling act director Christophe Gans pulls off.  So many elements from so many different genres come together here in what could have easily been an atrocious mess.  Instead, they blend like a witch’s brew and cast a rather hypnotic spell.  This is an impossible film to look away from.

Brotherhood of the Wolf dispels the myth that trying to be all things to all people ends up pleasing no one.  This is a superb cinematic offering, and one of the best movies of the year.

Video ****

I mentioned the exquisite cinematography in this movie, and Universal’s anamorphic transfer does it great justice.  This is a picture with many moods, atmospheres, and lighting levels, yet at all times, the imagery comes across with integrity and detail.  Low light doesn’t lead to murkiness or softness…there is sharpness and clarity throughout, even in some of the most shadowy scenes.  Colors are superbly rendered throughout, with no unnatural tones and no bleeding.  I noticed no grain or compression at any point…the picture is clean and crisp all the way.  Reference quality!

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio fares just as well…this is an explosively dynamic soundtrack in which your subwoofer will almost become a character in and of itself!  The low tones keep a sinister presence in the back of our minds.  Front and rear stages are utilized for maximum effect during chases, fights, and other bits of cinematic styling.  Crossovers are smooth in all directions, keeping you centered in the action.  You get the benefits of 5.1 with either the English or original French soundtracks…I tested both, and believe the French to be a bit more open and full sounding, with a little better use of the .1 channel.  Definitely one of the year’s best audio offerings.

Features **

The disc only lacks in this department.  There are five deleted scenes introduced by Christophe Gans who explains why he elected to cut them, plus talent files, production notes, and a rather cool theatrical trailer.

Summary:

You may not be a fan of horror, or period films, or martial arts movies, but you may be surprised at how much you like all three the way they’re mixed in Brotherhood of the Wolf.  This is a wildly entertaining and absorbing film on a fantastic looking and sounding DVD.  Recommended.