Constantine (6/10)

by Tony Medley

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) was born with a gift of communicating with demons and is an exorcist (so gird for all the special effects!).  He has been banned from heaven because of a youthful indiscretion, so really doesn’t want to live anymore. He meets skeptical police detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) who is trying to solve the murder of her sister. They begin a journey that, literally, takes them to hell and back. What’s good about this movie is that it deals with the concept of God vs. the devil, an idea that’s generally anathema to present day Hollywood unless the devil comes out on top. That said, it’s a confusing mishmash of theological absurdities á la Dan Brown of “Da Vinci Code” nonsense, although it certainly doesn’t adopt Brown’s anti-Christian crusade.

It was hard for me to concentrate because of all the special effects. But beneath the glitzy surface is a gritty story of God vs. Satan. There are some memorable scenes, like Satan (Peter Stormare) when he gets even with Constantine at the end of the movie. I won’t tell you how he did it, but it takes some thinking to realize what happened, even after you see it happen. While this is a movie that can entertain you if you just sit back and watch all the special effects, it’s also one that can make you think if you so choose. There are other scenes that could have been memorable had they been cohesively developed instead of randomly inserted and the idea then abandoned. There are some impressive metaphorical scenes, like when the devil walks through suspended broken glass, symbolic of the suspended and shattered souls we've seen earlier.

Constantine and Angela can die and go to hell for awhile, which they do, and return to their lives, which poses a conundrum for people actually thinking. Constantine seems to want to die; to wit, when he kills himself and goes to hell and then returns to his unwanted life, what makes death permanent for him? If, when he dies, he returns to his life, why does he yearn for death? Throughout the film he devises different ways to temporarily kill himself and Angela (all friendly, of course).

He has occasional meetings with the Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) that also leave us wondering about how he’s treated and why. Swinton is a gender-bent, unisexual treat as Gabriel.

Trying to effectively depict hell, and hell on earth, is a daunting task, but director Francis Lawrence and production designer Naomi Shohan manage to do more than a decent and credible job of it. Not a place any of us would want to spend much time, much less eternity!

The story is terribly disjointed. At the beginning of the film the sword that killed Jesus is discovered in Mexico. The discoverer survives a frighteningly effective clash with an automobile, exceptionally well done, and is instantly conferred superhuman powers. He appears occasionally throughout the film, but then we don’t see him any more, almost as if he never existed.

The film would have had more meaning had responsibility for self been introduced into life’s equation rather than simply depicting possession/downfall as but a random event, never as a consequence to choices made, (though Gabriel does bear the brunt of that bit), thereby enforcing the victim mentality so popular today.

The only color in this gritty film of dark was the warm glow of God’s love and light towards the end…a factor of subconscious value that won’t be lost on even the most faithless who might want to dismiss it as mere maudlin inclusion, but ultimately won’t be able to forget it.

 As for me, the only special effects that ever got me to a movie were the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” (1993), and they were worth the trip. Since then, however, I avoid films based on special effects if I have the choice. In spite of the modern Hollywoodesque reliance on them, this is an interesting, albeit dark, movie with good acting, especially by Swinton and Stormare.

February 18, 2005