Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Crow - 1994

"The Crow" - 1994
Dir. by Alex Proyas - 1 hr. 42 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I didn't quite get around to rewatching "The Crow" on Halloween night, but one day late is better than not at all, right?  I'd really loved this film when I was younger (it hit me in a sweet spot, being a comic book fan and coming out when I was still in high school), watching it this time around produced a much different result.  Maybe it's a shift in perspective, but there are things that are apparent this time around that I hadn't focused on previously (namely that's it's basically "Dirty Harry" in goth trappings), and it wasn't as enjoyable of an experience.  I still enjoyed it, but not like I had before.

In Detroit, a young couple, Eric (Brandon Lee) and Shelly (Sofia Shinas) are murdered by a pack of scum, led by T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), the night before their wedding.  A year later, Eric returns from the grave with supernatural powers to avenge his death, since the police never were able to get anyone to talk about what had happened.  Eric tears through the gang that murdered him and his fiancee, leading to a final showdown between he and Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and his creepy half-sister, Myca (Bai Ling).

On paper, that doesn't look like much, but "The Crow" is long on style, and it's also a gothic-styled doomed romance.  In fact, there are about a million reasons why this is way more interesting than I've made it sound.  Part of it is the architecture and gloomy mood of the film (which weren't common at this point in time, except in big-budget movies like Tim Burton's "Batman" movies).  There's the real-life history of the source material; a graphic novel created by James O'Barr to cope with his own fiancee's death at the hands of a drunk driver.  There's also the history of the film itself, where star Brandon Lee was accidentally killed during the filming, by an improperly attended-to firearm, which was it's own tragedy.  Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, was filming his first decent movie (he'd done a couple of no-budget films with titles like "Laser Mission" and "Rapid Fire" before, and this was to be his breakthrough role), and really stepped up to the plate throughout "The Crow."  And beyond that, the soundtrack to "The Crow" is essential listening to anyone attempting to understand 90s alternative music, in the way one would probably consider the "Garden State" soundtrack an essential compliation to understanding the last ten years of understated indie music.

All of this adds up to a film with a distinct look and sound, stylish beyond it's era, and featuring a tantalizing taste of what Brandon Lee might have been able to do in future films, had things worked out differently.  These things are enough to make "The Crow" a successful film by any measure, and haven't been dulled by the two decades that have passed since it's release.  What has changed for me is that this is a fairly nihilistic film, where violence is met by bigger violence.  Surely, in the real world, crimes aren't always solved and criminals aren't always made to atone for their sins, and there's an undeniable thrill to seeing bad men meet a well-earned bad end, particularly at the hands of a stylish, charismatic man who's been done wrong in a spectacular fashion.  What this story is missing is the idea that violent revenge serves any purpose.  Yes, T-Bird and his crew die (violently, individually, and in terror), but judging by each man's determined self-destructive behavior, they all were slowly headed to the grave on their own.  Eric's actions actually shorten these men's suffering, although possibly keeping them from doing any more harm to anyone else.  But he doesn't come back to fix much of anything; his fiancee is gone, and the girl that had befriended the couple, Sarah (Rochelle Davis), only benefits in a sideways manner.

Like I wrote earlier, this ends up being a vigilante tale, "Dirty Harry" with pancake makeup and a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack.  The style is unique, the action spectacular (especially for a movie of this budget range), and there's momentary satisfaction in seeing justice meted out.  But it's short-lived, giving way to the sadness that permeates these characters' lives (and even the filmmakers' lives, considering Lee's death during filming).  Ultimately, no one's happy, and there doesn't seem to be any path to happiness for anyone, and I don't know what to make of that.  I'm willing to cut some slack, considering that the film had to be re-written and cobbled together from an incomplete shoot, but I feel like we've all been left with an incomplete thought, gaps obscured with style and noise.

3 / 5 - Streaming

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