The Wolfman has gotten some bad reviews. The last time I checked it had a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, most of the time I can read a bad review, watch the movie, and understand why the review was bad. I can’t do it here. I think some of these may be coming in part over expectations of what the movie was supposed to be. I don’t think The Wolfman was meant to be seen as a big summer blockbuster kind of film. Everyone remembers Melville for Moby Dick, but he also wrote Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno. Short stories that are lesser known but still just as good. The Wolfman is a Bartleby. Without your wolfmen — pardon, wolfmans — there’s nothing to compliment movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Stupid and Avatar.
Although the film is a remake of the 1941 classic The Wolfman, there are several differences between the two. In the new film, Lawrence Talbot returns to his home in England to attend his brother’s funeral. While investigating his death he’s led to a gypsy camp where he’s attacked by a werewolf. After healing from his injuries he discovers that every time the moon is full, he too transforms into the monster and soon thereafter the townspeople and local constable are onto him, trying to stop him from transforming and killing.
The film is as good as it is thanks to its cast. Benicio del Toro stars as the wolfman Lawrence Talbot. Anthony Hopkins is the father whom he returns to and Emily Blunt plays his brother’s grieving almost-widow (what are they called, anyway?). del Toro, who obviously didn’t ask for nor does he want the powers that have been given him can only stand back and watch in horror at the terrible acts he commits. Hopkins plays his role in a way I don’t think we’ve seen since The Silence of the Lambs. He looks at the world and his own power through cool, indifferent eyes. The things he’s capable of simply are. You either stand back or are run over by them. Emily Blunt, who I’ve been dating off and on for several months now, plays a traditional female role in what I thought was a non-traditional way. She doesn’t come off as a damsel in distress. She’s swept up in the events unfolding around her but never seems like she’s being controlled by them. Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Francis Aberline, who’s investigating the wolfman murders. Every time I saw him I couldn’t help but quote lines from The Matrix, but still, have you ever seen this guy in a movie where he wasn’t great?
The film itself has some of the best production values I’ve seen in a long time. To make a period piece feel as authentic as this one did takes a lot of work, and not all movies are able to pull it off. Sherlock Holmes, which is also set in 1891, had a larger budget (marginally larger, but still) and didn’t look as good as this film. I think it drives home the lesson that money spent doesn’t necessarily equal good work. And I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think the people behind Sherlock didn’t do good work, because they did, it’s just that the people behind The Wolfman did better work.
While The Wolfman is definitely the best film 2010 has offered up so far, it does have its problems. I won’t say that it could have been longer, because it works just fine as a shorter film. A longer runtime may have given things more of a chance to develop, but it also could have slowed things down. While the second half of the film is more action-heavy, I didn’t feel like the first half was slow in any way. For me, the problem wasn’t in its pacing but in the execution of its ending. Every good thing I’ve said about this film holds up until the last twenty minutes. Once you find out Hopkins’ secret — which I won’t spoil here — it doesn’t take much foresight to see where things are headed, and what we ultimately get is an ending that’s pretty mundane, routine, whatever. Only here do Hopkins, del Toro and Blunt fall into more conventional horror movie roles, we get a shot of a full moon and the credits roll. It’s disappointing and I was expecting more, BUT, it didn’t ruin the entire thing for me.
The Wolfman is emotional, frightening, and will have you glued to the screen from the start. While the ending is uninspired, the film is saved by the performances and overall dark tone. And the film holds a special place in my heart because it broke the cycle of Daybreakers, Legion, From Paris with Love BS we’ve been treated to so far this year. B