Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Crow

The Crow (1994), an adaptation of the comic book by James O'Barr, will always be remembered for the tragedy that occurred during its production. Star Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed when he was accidentally shot while filming his character's own murder scene. Most of the movie was complete, and filming was eventually completed with the aid of a stand-in and special effects. Sitting down to watch the movie for the first time, I questioned whether I'd be able to appreciate the movie on its own terms despite that dark cloud. The answer is a resounding yes.

On October 30, a day in Detroit now known as Devil's Night because of an annual crime spree, rock star Eric Draven (Lee) is murdered, and his fiancĂ© Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) is raped and later dies from the brutality she sustains; they were due to be married the next day. One year later, a crow lands on Draven's headstone and resurrects him. After pulling himself from out of the ground, Draven, guided by the crow, sets out on a path of vengeance against the thugs who murdered him and his love. Along the way, he encounters friends from his life, including Sarah (Rochelle Davis), a skateboarding girl neglected by her junky mother, and Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), a cop. Eventually, Draven ends up on a collision course with crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott).

Directed by Alex Proyas, who would go to make Dark City, The Crow is a melancholy film, even without knowledge of the real-life tragedy. Detroit here is a city of misery and suffering, a place where it's always raining, the streets and buildings are filmed with filth, and the people who populate it are either total scum criminals or victims crushed by it all. This is a city where at a bar known as The Pit, the villains drink shots by swallowing bullets with their liquor. The first of the city reveals a desolate urban landscape rocked by fires that it looks like hell on earth.

Though the movie falls into the realm of action and martial arts, it also incorporates elements of the horror genre, particularly the early German Expressionism films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. The characters exist almost entirely in a world of shadow, a darkness that matches their souls. Draven, with his face painted white in the style of a porcelain harlequin mask, is literally a phantom from the beyond the grave while Topdollar, with his long hair and formal dress, looks and acts in a way that makes me think of a modern-day Dracula, just so calmly assured of his power and casual about violence; their final encounter atop a church, in a storm surrounded by gargoyles, is appropriately gothic and moody.

While The Crow has an atmosphere of doom and gloom that would depress Tim Burton, it also contains a highly-charged kinetic streak and energy. The action scenes are exciting and varied, and Proyas includes a number of flashbacks showing Draven in happier times. The flashbacks are rapidly cut and filmed with a constantly moving camera and colors, a powerful contrast to the sad, black present.

Plot-wise, The Crow proves disappointingly straightforward. Early on, I anticipated a build to some mind-blowing revelation about why Eric and Shelly were murdered and that Draven's revenge would include him making this discovery, but the narrative boils down to something bad must be avenged. Later, the villains get the idea of killing the crow to eliminate Draven's invincibility (any new wounds he gets rapidly heal); they shoot the bird, seemingly killing it, but it emerges all right later yet Draven becomes susceptible to injury. Ultimately, this is a movie more about its aesthetics and style than its plot.

On the acting front, Lee is a commanding presence, much of his performance built on silent movement and poise, although he does get some evocative dialogue, even quoting Poe's "The Rave" at one point. "Little things used to mean so much to Shelly- I used to think they were kind of trivial. Believe me, nothing is trivial," he says. Wincott is a solid villain, nicely balancing dark humor with menace and carrying it all on his distinctive, resonant voice while Hudson is the voice of reason, the normal perspective for the audience to see things through.

The Crow is an evocative, exciting, and visually unforgettable experience, and at times, it becomes almost poetic: Draven fighting out of his grave, finding himself in his old apartment, weeping at his love's headstone, etc. It's a sad movie, both for events in and out of the picture, but it's thrilling nonetheless.

No comments:

Post a Comment