Release: 1994-05-13 (US)
Director: Alex Proyas
Production: United States
MPAA rating: R
Brandon Lee (Eric Draven, undead guitar hero), Ernie Hudson (Strange cop), Michael Wincott (Top Dollar, evil drug lord), Rochelle Davis
I finally watched the 1994 film The Crow since everyone else in the universe apparently already had and a copy turned up in my hands. Since the answer to the obligatory "is it more than five years old" question was affirmative I stuck it in the VCR for a look-see. This film seems to have become a neo-gothic cult item, a fact which I can only ascribe to the theme of death, death and more death, a semblance of poetic justice, low lighting and the real-life demise of its principal actor. Its basic idea is simple: A guitar-playing chap named Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), guided by a crow, returns from the grave to avenge his own murder and that of his fiancee. From vengeful undead he turns into an invincible all-out vigilante and takes on a crime syndicate.
Urban Detroit is evidently a place you wouldn't want to visit, that seems to be an acknowledged fact. ("The other job offer was in Detroit" is what I say when people ask me what the hell I'm doing where I am now. They all nod sympathetically.) Against this bleak backdrop the guiding spirit of dead souls, a crow, awakens the protagonist on the anniversary of his violent death. The gang who killed him and raped his fiancee while on the rampage during an annual event called "Devil's Night," sponsored by an incestuous, vampish drug lord, in which arson and destruction cause general mayhem, is the target of his anger.
Draven begins picking off the villains one at a time in a more or less bloody manner while they prepare for devil's night. While justifiably angry, his actions range from vengefully vicious to plain mean and irrational. At the site of the killings he leaves a token of his presence in the form of an outline crow drawing before the crow guides him to his next victim. In this way he finds his way to each of them and finally makes it to the boss level where he takes out a whole bunch of irrelevant baddies before chasing down the Man and leading him into the
ultimate gothic showdown.
Much of the film is seem through the eyes of a young girl who knew the couple, often telling the story from her perspective. This was not the original plan but was part of the "softening" after Lee's death. She replaced a more brutal character called "Skull Cowboy", who was supposed to become Draven's instructor. Her presence is an important element and the story surrounding her is the glue binding the more incongruous aspects of the film. Unfortunately she's involved in a happy end that's more or less unnecessary pandering to a sentimental audience. This film did not need a happy end.
Apparently there's a comic book that this film was based on by a fellow who used the unfortunate loss of his own fiancee as an inspiration. Or something like that. For his own sake I hope the book is better than the film. The characters turn out to be one-dimensional in a way that may be suitable for a printed work. On screen, however, the lack of depth is something we would have found funny in 1970s horror flicks but not in an ambitious film of the 1990s. Even the metaphysical elements, which could have given the film some cred if treated seriously, end up looking like comic book mumbo-jumbo.
- The lighting job which, although subdued throughout the film, was always adequate for viewing and excellently done. Quite atmospheric.
- The cinematography was possibly the best part. Nice takes, not too claustrophobic but still tight enough to maintain the ambience.
- Ernie Hudson as the weird cop. His character has design flaws but he delivers the best acting in the film.
- The soundtrack. Some very fine picks that fit into the film very nicely. I can't say I like NIN but their cover of Dead Souls is excellent both as a piece and as part of the film.
- The set designers did a top job. The sets and scenery are worthy of a classic film.
- It's clearly schizophrenic and that includes the casting. Either you make a dark, subtle gothic film or you hire Jean-Claude Van Damme and
make it an action film. Not both.
- The dialogues suffered. Not only were they few but many of them were awkward and out of touch with their surroundings.
- The hunt and methods of execution. Not bold enough to be gory, not inventive enough to get away with not being gory. Think Blade Runner and
you have what this aspect of The Crow is sorely missing.
- The shooting scene was the absolute low point. It should have been sent back to the screenwriter with a threatening note. Here's this
clown-faced undead avenger in a Halloween costume and he's barging in with smart-arsed commentary, wielding a pair of blazing firearms like some
bloody Rambo reject, shooting everything to kingdom come while walking through a hail of bullets. Pathetic and tasteless.
- The plot was somewhat "thin" and maybe a bit too linear, resembling an arcade game at times.
Overall I found the film to be an "easy" view--fluid, linear and at no point boring. Still, the fact that Lee was absent for much of the film is evident from the reduced dialogue and I'm convinced that scenes in which he figured made it into the final cut when otherwise they would have ended up on the cutting room floor. In the end, most of the kudos for producing a viewable film go to the technical staff rather than the cast and writers.
Lee's death was probably quite detrimental to the film's quality. When you've lost your main man, you simply can't just patch it up and do as well as you would have with him. All the body doubles and all the fancy editing will not fill the gap. In the end it comes across as a well-produced hack job (I pity the editors who worked on this film). It qualifies as "okay" but is by no means a classic for anyone other than teenage girls (twenty-something by now) with blogs, a thing for Victorian decorations and an onanistic attraction towards handsome, muscular (and dead) men. I'd rather go on a date with an Anne Rice character than watch it again.
Film critic-style rating, stars 'n' all: * * (2/5)