Constantine (2005)

constantine_6While I was interested in watching “Constantine”, I didn’t really get what I was expecting. I never once read a comic of “Hellblazer”, but I know the general gist of it, and despite my disappointment with the miscasting of Reeves and the loose adaptation, I did get more than I bargained for. Constantine was essentially a story that takes place in the UK, but despite the Americanization, it ends up becoming a really solid adult thriller in the end. Constantine is a demon fighter who has been diagnosed with cancer and is now seeking to buy his way in to heaven, and through that journey, director Francis Lawrence who is shockingly a music video director, surprisingly gives some grade A direction for what is rightly a stylish yet very murky supernatural thriller.

Lawrence gives some incredible and wild imagery involving monsters, demons, and some mind tricks that properly worked on this here cynical movie-goer. Lawrence presents some of the most eye-catching special effects and images worthy of Barker and Lovecraft, and I was utterly stunned by what was presented to us, whether it be his view of hell and its demons, or the opening where Constantine performs an exorcism. It was a sequence that could easily have been one of the most contrived scenes in the recent film age, but it was pulled off with such urgency and subtlety, it ends up becoming an amazing yet freaky scene. As for Constantine, I just love that bad-ass. Though Reeves sleepwalks through this role, the character has potential and much possibilities.

This is a man whose seen it all and confronted the most demonic of entities, yet is panicky about dying from cancer because he’s about to be sentenced to a prison where half the inmates want him, as he puts it. It’s wicked irony that is presented throughout the film that I just couldn’t get enough of along the lines of the themes of religion. While the movie ends up being just pretty good, it wins me over by the supernatural mumbo jumbo which I eat by the spoonfuls and that’s what makes me really like this movie. The voodoo, supernatural, and religious talk while droning for some, just kept me involved throughout the whole movie, and mixed with Lawrence’s searing visuals, it made for some great fodder for me in the way of horror. My favorite sequence being the lights on the empty street quickly going off as Constantine prepared for the inevitable. Lawrence, for a music video director is really a credit to his type.

He has a knack for detail and knows how to pace the film while speeding it up on the right time for the audience to get excited. As for what I thought of Reeves, you’ll have to read below, but the particular greatness of this film lies not in the principal actor’s acting and his lack thereof, yet in the overwhelming talents of the supporting cast whom all look as if they’re having more fun than Reeves is. Each actor looks like they’re just engrossed in their roles and really knocked me off my socks. Is it any coincidence the best performances are from the non-American actors? The supporting performances here really juiced me up because they made this for me. Firstly, there’s my future wife Rachel Weisz who is compelling as Angela, a woman whose twin mysteriously killed herself and now seeks Constantine’s help. Weisz is breathtaking and just manages to steal every scene alongside Reeves. Meanwhile, I’m always skeptical about music stars acting, but damn, Gavin Rossdale nearly steals the show.

Rossdale whom I was never fond of is just steaming with menace as Balthazar the hell’s angel who antagonizes Constantine to no end. Rossdale never once seems like he’s acknowledging the camera and really looks like he’s buying in to his lines instead of just acting. With a tweed suit and slicked back hair, he really takes the role by the balls and makes him worth watching. Salud, Rossdale, you surprised me. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, an immensely powerful magnate in the  supernatural world and really takes command of the screen while the utterly breathtaking Tilda Swinton kicks ass as Gabriel, the fallen angel. Swinton comes out cleanest amidst the movie making the part her own and really drew my attention as the utterly beautiful angel. But what really made this film for me was the climax, the final showdown with the man himself, the dark prince. Peter Stormaire is utterly brilliant as you-know-who and looks like he’s having a lot of fun playing him.

When he appears it’s surprising and he delivers his lines with much zeal and commitment. This dude can play menacing with the best of them and really just drowns out Reeves with his ability to chew the scenery. While the film is never perfect it sure is a lot of fun to watch and ultimately many of the elements inevitably made this a very satisfying film. I was disappointed, yes I was disappointed to say the least. Mostly in the decision on who to cast as John Constantine. Constantine is not someone I pictured as Reeves. I was never a reader of “Hellblazer”, nor did I ever read a single issue, but I’ve been involved enough in comic books to know the general feel of what Constantine is supposed to look like and how he’s supposed to be. “Constantine” knows the material, but it never has a grasp on the concept. Reeves stars in a movie that ends up looking like “The Matrix” mixed with “Exorcist”, and unfortunately the art suffers. As with Reeves? Well, Reeves may as well be Pinocchio because he’s extremely wooden in this role and wastes what a more charismatic actor could have had some fun with. As for me I’d have chosen Paul Bettany.

I pictured Paul Bettany as Constantine. Think about it. He’s British, intense, has a mean scowl, has that pessimistic bad ass gangster look, can act circles around Reeves, and is in real life a chain smoker. Who’s better than he? But unfortunately, we’re stuck with Reeves and he doesn’t deliver, nor does he really seem to buy in to or commit to the lines he’s given. Had the lead actor been more charismatic, Constantine would and could have been one bad ass very fun character to watch, yet instead just seems bored. Or is it Reeves who seems bored? I could never really tell. In the right hands, “Constantine” could have been one amazing neo-noir supernatural thriller, but instead runs on fumes and often times feels like it’s deriving concepts from other better story elements. There is the usual Nazi element, the main artifact meaning the end of Earth, the bible excerpts, the slimy villain, the Q like assistant and the unbelievably unnecessary comic relief. “Constantine” would have proved to be one of the most adult of comic adaptations yet instead its brought down by a story that made my head spin, and Reeves who never took the audience along for the ride nor does he bother to involve them.

He mutters, whispers, squints his way throughout the entire movie on a monotone tempo voice that was just distracting. As for Shia Lebeouf, well, as usual, he plays himself again. This time he’s Constantine’s apprentice who is that unnecessary comic relief I mentioned. What is it with this kid? He’s one-dimensional and not funny. As for the movie it goes on these high and low scaled story directions where at one moment I’m involved and getting excited and then I’m yawning waiting for the scene to end. It’s said how disjointed such an amazing concept became under the wrong pen of a writer who seems to have no idea how handle such a story. In the end while extremely entertaining, “Constantine” is a faulty very loose adaptation with highs and lows and snores galore never becoming satisfying. While the supporting cast is powerful, Reeves is never entirely convincing or involving in his role and almost ruins the film. While Reeves seems to be bored, the supporting cast looks like they’re having a damn good time making this worth the watch.