Joe Johnston's The Wolfman, apparently some kind of semi-remake of the 1941 Universal classic with Lon Chaney, Jr. (which I did not watch again before writing this review), does not quite reach classic status on its own. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt, it's a very basic, and boring at times, Edgar Allan Poe-esque retelling of a basic werewolf story. It aspires to be iconic, like last year's simple ninja story, Ninja Assassin, and some humor, period feeling and decent effects (though some are pretty cheesy) along with committed if odd performances from all, come together to give it my slightest recommendation.
The film opens with a lively and interesting werewolf attack. We have no idea what's going on or who the werewolf is, and the speed and ferocity of the werewolf as he attacks are effective. The whole film is shot in a dark lather of clouds, shadows and contrasts, at times seeming almost black-and-white, with perhaps a few dim hues discernible. This mostly works, too, though the day and night scenes are sometimes hard to tell apart.
Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, an actor who lives in America after being sent away from his family home in Blackmoor, England, as a child, after he was institutionalized following the death of his mother. A letter from his brother Ben's fiancée, Miss Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), reaches him in on tour in London, informing him that his brother has been missing for days and that Lawrence's assistance would be appreciated.
Lawrence does decide to return, his fame as an actor attracting some local attention as he does. But the search for his brother has ended by the time he arrives. His brother's body has been found in terrible, mysterious condition, and the search for answers begins as Lawrence commits himself to find out how it happened.
Benicio Del Toro is all shambling Brando in the picture as Lawrence, mumbling even when he's enunciating clearly, a trick he perfected in The Usual Suspects, to greater effect in that film. His character's exile to America handily explains his accent and exposure to The Method. There are moments when this is very persuasive, and moments when it's almost laughable, unfortunately.
Meanwhile, further werewolf attacks attend Lawrence's investigation, and arouse neighborhood suspicions of our prodigal son. There's a further institutionalization, which reminds very much of scenes from David Lynch's The Elephant Man. Antony Sher, who was a charming Disraeli in 1997's Mrs. Brown with Judi Dench, has fun as Dr. Hoenneger, the treating psychologist.
Anthony Hopkins, the actual veteran of The Elephant Man, at first seems a perfect choice for his role as Lawrence's mysterious father, Sir John. Though he looks nothing like Del Toro, what the heck, he'd be a good choice for any werewolf movie. This actually turns out to be a bit of a handicap, as he's scarier as Sir John than any werewolf, but the role forces him to be somewhat restrained and his dialogue is unintentionally funny at times, undercutting the story. He wears dark round smoked glasses to remind us of characters in better semi-contemporaneous period pieces like Gary Oldman's in his own Bram Stoker's Dracula, Johnny Depp's in From Hell, or Robert Downey, Jr., in the current Sherlock Holmes.
Emily Blunt plays a sort-of love interest for Lawrence after his brother's death, but she doesn't have much to do, either. She does seem to be the most aware of her predicament acting in this movie with a weak script, and she makes the most intelligent use of bad dialogue, adding some interest and disdainful humor. There's a moment when she reaches for a deadly weapon like she's reaching for a cup of tea, which I found highly amusing. Hugo Weaving is also fun, and has the best scene, as Inspector Abberline, though the character mostly wanders around aimlessly not looking for obvious clues.
I don't know, I might actually watch it again for Del Toro, Hopkins, Blunt, Sher, Weaving and the effects. It's kind of funny, and kind of cool at times, but overall, The Wolfman just doesn't hang all together so well. If you're hungry for a wolfman movie, and the weekend box office says you (collectively) are, have at it. It's a bit better than last year's Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, not nearly as good as Mike Nichols's Wolf.
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