Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review: "THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF" is Crazy (Literally), Sexy, Cool

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 6 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Pacte des loups, Le (2001)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  France; Language: French, German, Italian
The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002) – USA title
Running time:  142 minutes (2 hours, and 22 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence, gore, and sexuality/nudity
DIRECTOR:  Christophe Gans
WRITERS:  Stephane Cabel and Christophe Gans
PRODUCERS:  Richard Grandpierre and Samuel Hadida
EDITORS:  Xavier Loutreuil, Sébastien Prangère, and David Wu
COMPOSER:  Joseph LoDuca


Starring:  Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-Francois Stévenin, and Jacques Perrin

Le Pacte des loups is a 2001 French period film, action and horror movie directed by Christophe Gans.  The film was released in the United States in early 2002 by Universal Pictures under the title, The Brotherhood of the Wolf (the title by which I will refer to this film in this review).  The film's plot is loosely based on the legend of the “beast of Gévaudan” and a real-life series of killings that took place in France in the 18th century.  The Brotherhood of the Wolf focuses on a French knight and his Native American companion who are sent to investigate the mysterious slaughter of hundreds of people by an unknown creature in the county of Gévaudan.

At the beginning of The Brotherhood of the Wolf, Old Thomas d'Apcher (Jacques Perrin) recounts a fantastic fable/story of his youth.  It is France of 1765, and the King sends two envoys to the Gevaudan province (which no longer exists) to investigate a series of brutal murders of which the locals believe is committed by a mysterious beast.  The envoys are the Chevalier Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist, and his companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), a Mohawk Iroquois shaman of New France (Canada).  They arrive in Gevandan to find the provincials bigoted and superstitious, even in the midst of the death all around them.

Among the colorful cast of characters include a mysterious and powerful priest, Henri Sardis (Jean-Francois Stevenin), and a sly and dangerous one-armed hunter, Jean Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel).  The young Thomas d’Apcher (Jeremie Renier) becomes a hunting companion of Fronsac and Mani.  Two strong female characters compete for the attentions of the virile and intelligent Fronsac: Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne), Jean Francois’s beautiful younger sister, and the nubile and hypnotic courtesan Sylvia (Monica Bellucci).  As Fronsac and Mani pierce the veil of mystery and terror that covers the province, intrigue and deceit surround them, and the beast continues to kill.

Directed by Christophe Gans, The Brotherhood of the Wolf bends genres as easily as the film’s beast tears through its victims.  Horror, thriller, western, martial arts, and mystery, the film is filled with suspense, terror, romance, eroticism, and political intrigue.  It is at times intoxicating and mind bending and at other times, languid and thoughtful.  It is difficult to categorize, but the movie is largely fantasy and action, but different from most of the movies that both genres recall.

Fronsac is a man of reason who sees a human conspiracy behind the killings that is darker and more insidious than any beast of Hell.  Still, this man of science also understands the mystic worldview and belief system of his friend and blood brother, Mani.  Fronsac is enlightenment’s soldier against the backward and ignorant peasants and nobles of Gevaudan.  The provincials fear the ways of a city like Paris, and Sardis and Jean Francois resent the capital’s intrusion into their world.  They disdain the confidence and intelligence of the King’s envoys.  The beast is a physical manifestation of the provincials superstitions, isolationism, hatred, and evil that feeds upon the populace, and the creature resists the authority of the government.

The movie’s creature is a computer-generated image (CGI); at its best is fearsome.  At its worst, the creature, especially during some daylight scenes, is hokey.  However, Gans wisely holds revealing the beast in scenes that go by so quickly that we rarely get a good look at it.  Sometimes, just the unseen beast’s roars, growls, and footsteps are enough to set the heart racing.

Le Bihan as Fronsac is strong and strongly confident.  He is the romantic lead upon which the audience hitches its wagon.  When he and Mani arrive early in the movie, after the film’s opening murder, they appear in a driving rainstorm, masked minutemen with the presence of demigods.  Mani’s assault upon the villagers recalls fight scenes from The Matrix, but his are down to earth and more physical, more visceral; the threat of danger to him from the attackers is much greater.  Decascos is mostly very good on the screen as Mani, though a few bits of his screen time are a little flat.  When Gans unleashes him late in the movie, Decascos is a beautiful force a nature, a small storm in human guise tearing through his antagonists.

Vincent Cassel’s Jean Francois is the serpentine equal to Fronsac.  He dominates all of his screen time, except for his scenes with Fronsac, in which both must share the screen.  The movie nearly bursts from having to contain both their magnetic presences.  They alone are worth the price of admission, but the rest of the cast, both veterans and newcomers, make the most of their roles.

Although a little long, The Brotherhood of the Wolf is wonderful; a dark horse, it is one of the best films of the year 2001.  Gans and his screenwriting partner, Stephane Cabel, created a script that melds raw action with social intrigue, and the result is quite an accomplishment.  The Brotherhood of the Wolf is plainly good entertainment.  Not quite high art, it is eye candy that is very smart and very fun.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Edited:  Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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