Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002) Review

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Le Pacte des Loups
Director: Christophe Gans
Producer: Richard Grandpierre, Samuel Hadida
Cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin
Running Time: 143 min.

By Numskull

Gregoire du Fronsac, royal naturalist, is sent to the rural county of Gevaudan to investigate a series of murders blamed on a rampaging, wolf-like beast. His assistants are Mani, his Iroquois blood brother, and Thomas d’Apcher, the grandson of the nobleman under whose roof he sleeps during his stay…that is, for the nights when he’s not bedding Sylvia, the prize attraction at the local brothel. During daylight hours, the aristocratic Marianne de Morangias is the target of his affections, and her arrogant, overbearing brother Jean-Francois is his adversary…at least, the one that walks on two legs.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I adore this film unconditionally. The first time I saw it, my reaction was one of perfect, pants-wetting joy, and had I not been confined to bed with an absolute motherfucker of a flu bout (sickest I’ve been in my life) so shortly thereafter, I probably would have been wandering the streets telling complete strangers to go see it. With its outstanding music, deafening sound effects, gorgeous sets and locations, and unapologetic mixture of genres, it was…and is…a true feast for the eyes and ears. I had never thought that tri-corner hats and eight layers of clothing could look so fucking cool.

Now? Well, the gushiness has faded, but the love hasn’t. There are flaws…a weak cut here, a bit of substandard CGI there…but this is minor, minor stuff. Brotherhood of the Wolf is almost certain to remain one of my very favorite films until the day I die. That doesn’t mean I want to watch it all the time…far from it…but it’ll always be present on my mental Top Whatever list, in the distinguished company of Seven, Fight Club, Braindead, Mr. Vampire, Musa, Falling Down, Ravenous, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There are certain films where one’s adoration is such that you think anyone who doesn’t like them must be clinically insane. In this case…hey, I’m realistic. Incest, ecclesiastic conspiracies, and monster-hunting in 18th century France aren’t for everybody. I can only imagine how disappointed some people must have been when they got this after being led to expect a “kung fu werewolf movie” thanks to all of the idiot critics out there who came up with asinine comments like:

“An 18th Century version of The Matrix…” -Lou Lumenick, New York Post

“This is a kung-fu movie…” -Jeffrey M. Anderson, The San Francisco Examiner

“An unexpected touch of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” -Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News (she’s the one who compared The Passion of the Christ to WWII-era Nazi propaganda films, by the way)

“…slo-mo martial-arts scenes out of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…” -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Were these people on crack? Had they never seen swords or subtitles before Crouching Tiger? Did they think that slow motion, long coats, and people hitting each other didn’t exist before The Matrix? Or were they just too fucking lazy to write reviews that were actually accurate?

These are the things that keep me awake at night.

One common complaint about BOTW…and I know that some people reading this have it, I can smell it on you…is that it’s “scatterbrained”; that it “doesn’t know what it wants to be” or some such nonsense. To those people, I say: That’s not what you mean. What you REALLY mean is: “I am confused and frightened by this movie’s refusal to fit neatly into one established category that has been around for as long as cinema itself, and rather than accept it for what it is, I shall scold it for not being something else like the mewling halfwit I am.” There, now. Isn’t it a relief for the truth to come out?

Another common complaint about BOTW is that it’s too long, and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the people who say so would be the first ones to whine that the film made no sense if it were shortened to accommodate their feeble attention spans. The film isn’t two and a half hours because Christophe Gans, Sebastien Prangere and David Wu don’t know what the fuck they’re doing; the film is two and a half hours because there are more than two important characters and because the story requires attention to detail. Of course, some of these poor souls were probably under the impression that this was a “kung fu werewolf movie” before they saw it, and while complaining about the film’s length they were probably STILL “thinking” (?) that it was supposed to be a “kung fu werewolf movie”. One would think that the large chunks of plot development between fight scenes, as well as the complete absence of lycanthropes in the film, would have made them aware that this, in fact, is NOT a “kung fu werewolf movie” in intention or execution and that they had been led astray by indolent critics. Alas…

The theatrical cut, released in the U.S. by Universal, is serviceable, but the extended version (available from TVA Films in Canada for us Region 1 types) is far better. Aside from several extra scenes integrated into the film, there are two discs full of supplementary material, much more interesting than the usual promotional stuff where everybody just sings one another’s praises. Actor Samuel le Bihan (Fronsac) and fight (NOT “kung fu”) choreographer Philip Kwok (of “Venoms” fame), for example, are generally pleased with the fruits of their labor but are also rather critical of each other’s methods. A notable disappointment is the lack of input from composer Joseph LoDuca, whose musical score for the film…one of my favorites, second only to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings work…is never less than superb.

I trust I’ve made my views clear. BOTW is, to me, at the top of the cool movie mountain. An absolute treasure, now and forever.

Numskull’s Rating: 10/10


By Reefer

Filled with guns, crossbows, martial arts, monsters, boobs, male bonding, and action, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a sixteen-year-old boy’s fantasies come to life. I mean, where else can you find such a collection of guilty pleasures? French director Christopher Gans seems to have gone out of his way to bring out the playful kid in his audience and succeeds on all counts.

BOTW begins as a traditional monster movie. Women and children fear attack from some crazed beast terrorizing the French countryside. The king sends two men to help investigate, Fronsac and Mani. Fronsac is a boyish intellectual and Mani is the strong silent warrior.

The heroic twosome arrive during a rain shower just in time to teach some scoundrels not to beat up on a woman and an old man. Mani beats them soundly with a staff, showing lots of slo-mo close-ups of splashing mud puddles and pouring rain. The photography throughout the film is a highlight. Later on, they and cohort discuss catching the beast while firing guns, throwing knives, and shooting crossbows at a bunch of pumpkins on some posts. Cut to: slow motion pumpkin explosions. I just sat there grinning from ear to ear. Totally guy stuff. When not beating ass or eviscerating pumpkins, our boys frequent the local brothel where lots of boobage is on display. No wonder this film is almost two and half hours long!!!

Based on actual events, BOTW also suggests enough conspiracy theories to make Oliver stone proud. Fortunately, the movie dumps most of the politics in favor of some very satisfying action sequences, choreographed to perfection by Philip Kwok (Mad Dog from Hard-boiled). One criticism, near the end when Fronsac is forced to fight, he does so like a skilled warrior, but his skills were never even alluded to previously. Mark Dacascos’s Mani did all the ass kicking. To me, this seemed like a cheat. Like they just decided to make Fronsac go Bruce Lee at the end of the film. Then I checked the Deleted Scenes on my DVD. Seems that in the original cut, Frontac actually takes part in the very first fight of the film, but that footage was cut out. I consider it a shame that it wasn’t included. Ignore the critics who couldn’t get past such mixing of genres. Forget that Mani, an Iroquois Indian, knows Asian kung fu. This is a highly entertaining romp of a film. Better enjoyed if you can find that kid inside of you.

Reefer’s Rating: 8/10


By Joe909

It’s hard to give an accurate description of this movie. It’s not exactly kung-fu, nor is it horror. It isn’t a love story, although there’s a heavy romantic subplot. I’d say it’s an old-fashioned romance in the original definition of the word: “a fictitious tale of heroes and adventure,” as quoted from Webster’s. It’s an adventure with two very cool heroes, a crazed villain, claw-wielding, kung-fu fighting peasants, wacky, demonic swords that break apart and re-form, two visits to a bordello (each with nudity included), a great monster (one of the few instances in which cgi effects look very realistic; in other words, better than “Phantom Menace” and all that crap), and a great climax.

Brotherhood of the Wolf looks like a modern-day Shaw Brothers movie, only filmed in French. The peasant warriors especially resemble Shaw extras, what with their long hair and home-made weapons. Maybe choreographer Philip Kwok had something to do with this. And speaking of choreography, the fights throughout are excellent, though there is the occasional, irritating use of slow motion and other filmic trickery. Not exactly Matrix-like, but close enough. Luckily, everyone sticks to the ground and there’s no flying around or any of that nonsense.

Mark Dascosos is one bad muther in this movie, believe you me. Gans apparently directed him with the early Arnold Schwarzenegger method: give the actor only a modicum of lines; let his grimace and toughguy bearing do all the talking. Plus they somehow achieved the impossible: Dascosos for once doesn’t look like an alternate member of N’Sync, there’s no prettyboy at all left in him. He’s just pure, face-painting, loincloth wearing, shroom-eating savage in this movie. He has probably one of the best kung-fu fights ever towards the end of the movie, as he takes on an epic amount of warriors in the monster’s crypt. There’s also a cool showdown with the monster, in which Dascosos’ character Mani paints himself up, just like Arnold did in “Predator.”

The main lead, Samuel Le Bihan, is just as much of a badass as Mani, though we as viewers don’t get a taste of this until later in the movie, although it’s pointed out in the very beginning that the guy is a war hero. His character gets probably the best scenes in the movie, what with his climactic battle in the villain’s lair, with henchmen and the villain himself.

This and “Versus” are the two best movies I’ve seen this year. If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick Brotherhood. Mostly because there’s more story (maybe too much of one, as the political subterfuge that runs throughout might throw off someone unfamiliar with French history; I had to explain the ending to my girlfriend, who really couldn’t have cared less, anyway), and because this is just more of a movie. “Versus” was great, but it’s mostly just guys running through a forest and killing each other. Brotherhood of the Wolf offers something for everyone, and if you’re looking for something fresh, exciting, and original, I would direct you to this great film.

Joe909’s Rating: 9.5/10

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