Sunday, February 27, 2005
By Reymundo Salao
Just Another Film Junkie
The Guardian, February 26, 2005
Not so long within the first few minutes of the film CONSTANTINE, and there is a brief appearance of a small Philippine flag hanging by a room in a Los Angeles apartment. Later on, there is a scene where a young woman (a role played by Filipina, Jhoanna Trias) possessed by a demon tells the protagonist Constantine "PAPATAYIN NATIN SILA!" suddenly the audience reacted in surprising exclamation, some of them asking themselves if their ears have deceived them that they heard the Filipino language in possibly one of this year's potential blockbusters.
But seeing and hearing Filipino is not the only big deal about this film. CONSTANTINE is highly anticipated, and indeed it satisfies with its intriguing enigmatic energy, its horror-supernatural adventure, and even its eye-candy factor. But nowadays, special effects really don't matter as much anymore. Gone are the days when action-adventure films would pointlessly attempt to outdo the other by pushing the limits of visual effects, trying to create the most flawless fantastical visual stimulation. Nowadays, it has to be the storyline-concept that has to be solid and attention-grabbing. Such is the case of CONSTANTINE, which is based on the DC-Vertigo adult-comicbook series HELLBLAZER. To begin with, Hellblazer (just like all of the other Vertigo comicbooks like DEATH and SANDMAN) is already one helluva-profound series, about John Constantine, a working-class mage, a con-artist, a thief, former punk, a bastard hero, and a chain-smoker who is dying of lung cancer. And because he has spent his younger years unguidedly dabbling in the occult, black magic, and a very rotten personality, his soul is doomed for hell. Now that he is faced with the imminence of death, he is in a desperate quest for salvation, trying to buy his way into heaven, primarily, by helping people as a sort of a supernatural detective, exorcising half-breed demons that mischievously wander the Earth, and sending them back to hell.
The film version has some understandable alterations that stray a bit from the original Hellblazer. In the original comics series, John Constantine is British, and the setting of the entire saga primarily revolves around Constantine's own urban home, London. In the movie, however, Constantine is American and its setting is Los Angeles. The comicbook Constantine is also dirtier, more foul-mouthed, and has blond hair (Its writer Alan Moore, along with it's artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben, intended Constantine to look just like the rock musician Sting). But Keanu Reeves does give a satisfactory performance that can still give the title-character he plays the same bad-boy-coolness reputation it deserves. It was rather refreshing to see Reeves break away from playing a goody-goody guy role, one that freely whips out the dirty finger and be nastily rude even to such a hot chick as Rachel Weisz. Weisz plays the role of detective Angela Dodson, whose twin sister appears to have committed suicide. Her denial and disbelief over her sister's death led her to Constantine who discovered that demons from hell were somehow responsible for her sister's death, and that they were planning to prey on Angela next, in preparation for the coming of the son of the devil, the one that will rule the Earth with blood and pain.
The film was directed by Francis Lawrence who has made a remarkable leap from his past achievements of making music-videos, to such an intriguing epic, one that already has a cult (comicbook) following. The noir look worked really well, along with the gritty atmosphere of the movie, with elegant urban settings, and the damp aura that looks as if you can smell the places. It felt like it was directed by master directors of grit, goth and horror, like David Fincher (Se7en), Alex Proyas (The Crow), and John Carpenter (The Thing, They Live). No flashy stunts, just the right tone of gloom and well-placed darkness. The film also stars Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, and (90's rock band) Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, whose first acting performance was unimpressive but adequate. This film should not to be compared with the Matrix, although its trailer has a very close resemblance, even a seemingly twin format with each other. Constantine is far much deeper, it reaches the depths of hell.
Probably the only clear weakness of the film is its hasty rush of obscure references. The film begins with no gradual introduction, just the swift jump into the details. Some of those unfamiliar with deep supernatural ideas may tend to be hastily lost in all the hellspeak language of the film. Its other weakness is its unavoidable resemblance to the Christopher Walken film "The Prophecy". Fortunately, a tiny resemblance, and ultimately, though, this film ends with its own unique flavor.
Heavy on references to Christian-based context, that being the war between Heaven and Hell, Angels, Demons, sins, and redemption, the lingo of this film may be easy for the regular Filipino viewer to digest. Although there may be some scenes that may make conservative Christians cringe, like when the angel Gabriel utters the four-letter F-word. Sure, let's just claim that it's a different Gabriel from the one mentioned in the Bible. Aside from those tiny details, the film would still be something your Christian Lola may like watching. Sure it should, it preaches salvation. It even preaches that dabbling in the occult is just going to lead you to demonic misery, probably a redundant moral lesson that stands in many horror films. But in this film, it hits close to simplicity; Do not try to look (into hell, into the devil), for it looks back. Dabble in the occult, and you may get yourself damned to hell, just like Constantine. Stop smoking too, just like Constantine's dilemma, that trip to hell might come sooner before he can attain redemption.
Be wary, though, that this film is rated-R for violence and demonic images, probably the thing that Brunei wouldn't tolerate. The movie has been deemed unsuitable for public viewing, Ahmad Kadir, the secretary of the Brunei government's Censor Board. But for Filipino viewers, anything horrible is fine, just as long as it has an end where evil fails and the good triumphs.