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
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
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