Brotherhood of the Wolf

(Le Pacte des Loups)

Huge movie successes in America usually translate to success overseas. The opposite is never a given. France's Amelie is currently doing brisk business, and studios certainly hope that Brotherhood of the Wolf, a movie entirely different in tone, does the same. Brotherhood is an action movie that combines elements of French, Hong Kong, and American styles to make a cinematic melting pot. Lush production value, high-flying martial arts, flashy camera effects, and an international cast of characters populate this movie. There are good and bad elements of each of the three influences, and Brotherhood unwittingly borrows from both by the time the credits roll. One difference is that although this is a highly violent action film, it attempts to dig a little further and examine contemporary French politics. The film, based on actual events in 1765 Gevaudan, France, tracks the efforts of the French to capture what people think is a vicious beast.

Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan, Jet Set, Total Western) is on a mission to track down and kill the beast. He returned from New France (or America as most people know it) with Mani (Mark Dacascos, China Strike Force, The Base), a Mohawk Indian. Their efforts, as well as the efforts of local and other national governments, prove futile. The beast eludes them and continues to kill across the countryside. The more that Fronsac learns, the more confused he is. This monster is huge and seemingly has the ability to think. Brotherhood takes place over the span of a couple years, so Fronsac has the time to woo Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne, Rosetta) and spend time with courtesan/seer Sylvia (Monica Bellucci, Malena, Under Suspicion). Fronsac and Mani have a love/hate relationship with the local officials. They admire his attempts to capture the beast, yet they resent the supposed interference. They also have the typical racist views of Native Americans present at that time. One local, Thomas d'Apcher (Jeremie Renier, The King's Daughters, Pretend I'm Not Here) does decide to join them in their efforts.

Director Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman, Book of the Dead) and co-writer Stephane Cabel (Un Pur Moment de Rock'n'Roll) haphazardly divide the film into three sections. The first is the arrival of Fronsac and the initial hunt. When the hunt proves fruitless, the movie slows down considerably, delving more into Fronsac's character. Things pick up considerably when the hunt begins again, with Gans going into overdrive until the end. The third act is by far the most visually satisfying, with constant fighting scenes that successfully meld the various influences into one long, kinetic sequence. The martial arts (and who knows martial arts in Revolutionary France?) are frantic, with Gans sometimes impeding events with an overactive use of his camera. He does not give enough time for the audience to take in the amazing things that Dacascos and Le Bihan are doing.

Gans and Cabel also make a valiant effort at transcending action movie boundaries with story, but this has mixed results. Fronsac's romance with Marianne never heats up. Neither does his relationship with Sylvia. For most of the movie, the women in the movie do nothing except look coy or get down. Dacascos acts with his demeanor and his body, since he has very few lines. The second half of Brotherhood is where the acting is, but it just drags the movie. The end is where Le Bihan, Bellucci, and Vincent Cassel (The Crimson Rivers, Shrek) finally get a chance to redeem themselves, and even then, they are not spectacular as actors. As action stars, things are much better, especially for Le Bihan. The third act belongs to him, and he ably holds his own. Gans reveals the beast in the third act, which, like most horror movies, is not as exciting as the suggestion of the beast. Nonetheless, Brotherhood of the Wolf is still an enjoyable escapist movie that feels like watching different types of movies at the same time.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 22 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for strong violence, gore, and sexuality/nudity.

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