Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THE CROW (1994) - ****

Rated R for a great amount of strong violence and language, and for drug use and some sexuality
Running time: 102 min.
Release date: May 13, 1994

Like his father before him, Brandon Lee's career was tragically cut short just as he was seemingly about to break out into a recognizable action film star. His fatal accident on-set during filming of The Crow also cast the future of this film in doubt. However, it was decided to complete and release the film. If this had been a bad film, some would have accused the producers of a cash grab. You don't hear much about that, do you? That's because The Crow is a very good film which showcases the potential of the late Brandon Lee.

The film opens amidst a visual landscape of blazing fires and dark, grimy buildings in an urban setting not unlike Blade Runner; except this city appears to be somehow even grittier and more threatening than the one in Blade Runner. A rock star (Brandon Lee) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Sofia Shinas), have been murdered by a gang on the eve of their wedding. Policeman Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) is on the scene, appearing to be the only person in the entire city with a heart, as he breaks the news to the couple's young teen friend Sarah (Rochelle Davis). Narration from the film's opening tells us that some people believe that, when a person dies, a crow carries their soul to the other side; but when there is unsettled business, it leaves that soul restless. Sometimes the crow will carry the soul back to resolve that business. This leads us to a graveyard one year later, as the rock star, Eric Draven, rises from the dead, amidst rain and mud.

Guided by the crow, Eric revisits his former home where he and his bride-to-be died, with flashbacks providing us with details on their obviously loving relationship, as well as providing the grisly details of their demise. It is at this point that Eric has come to grips with his situation and has decided to exact his revenge on those that destroyed his life and the life of his dearly departed. One by one, he runs down the members of the gang in increasingly gruesome ways. He is met by Officer Albrecht, who has since been demoted to beat cop by an obnoxious lieutenant, who is quick to catch on to who exactly Eric is. Young Sarah also realizes that Eric is back from the dead, as we get the requisite emotional reunion scene. Eventually, the villains come to realize the situation as well. Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and his half-sister Myca (Bai Ling) are two bizarre characters that lead the city's underworld, existing to create havoc. Their strange relationship is quite fitting for this setting. Top Dollar is the individual who gave the order to kill Eric and Shelly on that fateful night. 

First and foremost, this film is an exercise in visual style. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and the production design by Alex McDowell has combined to create a world that is dark, dreary, gritty, murky. The constant rainfall sets a somber tone; this is a world without hope, but yet Albrecht's apartment is jarring in it's normalcy. It's almost as if routine and normalcy have no place in this setting. Director Alex Proyas has taken a setting that was almost seen in Tim Burton's Batman and has darkened the edges even more. Graeme Revell's score and soundtrack heighten the mood and atmosphere with an industrial metal/heavy shoegaze sound. We see glimpses of this in the nightclub scenes with a couple of the bands appearing onstage. The Crow is an excellent example of how bringing music and visuals together can create an atmosphere to hold everything together.

The screenplay by David J. Schow and John Shirley was based on the comic book of the same name by James O'Barr. The screenplay plays one note, that being the revenge tale. Some of the dialogue is less than inspired and bordering on silly. However, Brandon Lee put together a solid performance as the come-back-from-the-dead anti-hero, especially in a couple of emotional scenes. Ernie Hudson's character was a good guy but there was not much depth there. Michael Wincott, while not an interesting villain, chewed up the scenery and gave it his all. Bai Ling's Myca was a more interesting character, as she played it brooding and somewhat mystical. Eventually, the film found itself ending on a clichéd rooftop fight scene in the rain and lightning. 

The Crow is a film with style and a little substance; but that style is what brings it above the pack for this genre. Visuals and sounds coming together to form a cinematic world that is unlike any other. Mood and atmosphere draping over the proceedings as they unfold. If Blade Runner provided the template, The Crow reshaped the mold for the genre.

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