Every once in while there comes a movie that raises the cinematic bar to hitherto unparalleled heights; a movie where the casts’ skill is surpassed only by the gripping storyline and well-crafted script, where all the separate elements are brought together in a gestalt of fine, award-worthy direction. The Wolfman is not such a film. In fact, despite a stellar cast, it falls far short of the mark.
For those uninitiated into all things lycanthrope, here’s the rundown: Lawrence Talbot is a British nobleman whose brother turns up dead, maimed by “some kind of wild animal”. Lawrence too encounters such an attack — only he survives it. The event leaves him altered, causing, amongst other things, an unexpected profusion of body hair, though this is one of the more benign side-effects.
The plot is a classic, and the cast has some renowned actors including Benicio Del Toro in the title role, Sir Anthony Hopkins as father to the prodigal son, Emily Blunt (be still my beating heart) and some fabulous cameos, including Geraldine Chaplin as a gypsy medicine-woman-cum-witch-doctor, and Art Malik as Singh, Sir John’s faithful servant/gentleman’s gentleman, imported directly from the Raj.
But the stars seem as uninspired by the script as the viewers. Sir Anthony lazily coasts through his performance. You can almost hear him thinking of his paycheque and gritting his teeth through it, thereby refusing to grace us with those acting talents he saves for performances he isn’t condescending to.
The much-lauded Del Toro is passable in his role of tortured, haunted nobleman-turned-actor-turned werewolf — although he has absolutely zero on-screen chemistry with Emily Blunt. This may have to do with the unvarying expression she sports throughout the duration of the film.
The acting is also not helped by the utterly ridiculous accents — Hopkins, for example, switches effortless between Welsh, Scottish and English (although Geraldine Chapman’s take at gypsy-speak had me in fits of laughter).
One might be inclined to afford the movie some leeway given its tumultuous release history. Originally scheduled for a November 2008 release, it was first pushed back to February 2009, then April 2009, then November 2009, following which late July 2009, before it was finally screened in February this year. Regardless of these hitches, what could have been a tight, gripping tale of an inner darkness manifesting itself as a physical beast, all set within the backdrop of 19th century feudal Britain, instead becomes an insipid story with nothing going for it at all.
There are moments though where you can almost see how this film could have been — for instance, in Hugo Weaving’s intense portrayal as the determined, yet oddly laid-back investigator, or the gripping sequence in which Del Toro’s wolf man mercilessly slaughters a roomful of psychiatrists waiting to prove that he is delusional and will not turn into a wolf when the full moon appears. The effects are also quite incredible — although, again, I personally find the idea of an upright walking wolf man more funny than disturbing (blame Teen Wolf).
The Wolfman would have fared much better if it had attempted to stay within the realm of kitsch — sharing the joke with the audience — instead of trying to take a memorable classic and reinvent a concept for an audience that has seen far too much to be taken in by a man in a wolf mask.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2010.
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