Rated R/117 min.
Two Our of Five Stars
Poor Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean actor (played by Benicio Del Toro) who, in the course of a few days, learns that his brother has been torn to shreds, the killer is still at large and a savage monster has been spotted roaming the countryside. Oh, and whenever the moon is full, Talbot begins to feel, uh, wolfish.
This remake of the original 1941 classic had a lot of trouble getting into theaters, with a new director, a fired then re-hired composer, altered creature concepts and re-shoots pushing the release date back for months. Despite all that, the film is mostly fun but ultimately weighed down by a fatal flaw: the miscast lead actor.
Del Toro is a gifted actor and I was optimistic about him playing the lead in a lavish studio film but, despite being one of the movie’s producers, he’s dull and appears disengaged. His character is a celebrated stage actor, yet his demeanor suggests a morose undertaker. Perhaps the behind-the-scenes trouble got to him—who knows? At least everyone around him delivers.
Anthony Hopkins plays Talbot’s eccentric father and he’s in fine form; in fact, he’s so spry and fun to watch, he should have played the title role. Hugo Weaving plays the lawman on the case and seems to be doing a turn of the century variation on his Mr. Smith character from The Matrix, which works better than you’d think. Emily Blunt, cast as the glum love interest, puts her heart into a role that borders on thankless. She has no chemistry with the detached Del Toro, particularly during a painful scene where he teaches her to skip rocks.
Unlike John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, a brilliant horror/comedy that comments on the naiveté of American tourists, or Mike Nichols’s underrated Wolf, about how a meek New York book publisher unleashes the beast within, there is no subtext here, just action scenes that bookend the story. Blunt has an intriguing moment where she tells the tortured Talbot that, if the supernatural exists, then God and magic are real too, widening their options and the possibilities of life. Nothing ever comes of that provocative line, however.
There are two double-dream sequences (a nod to An American Werewolf) that add little except cheap fake-out jolts and the rushed pace indicates this was clearly cut down for time. Yet the special effects, cinematography, make-up, music and especially the art direction are brilliant and the wolf-attack set pieces are spectacular. It looks like a classic, gothic Universal Studios monster movie and not merely a 21st century rehash. Director Joe adds classic touches throughout, like casting Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) as an all-knowing gypsy.
This is a film that wants to be great, and could have been if not for the sullen beast at its center.