Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups) Review
Based loosely upon the true story of the 'Beast of the Gevaudan' that ravaged 18th century France Brotherhood of the Wolf serves as a backdrop for some of the greatest action committed to celluloid so far this year. Chevalier de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his trusted companion, Mani (a native Indian from New-France/Canada portrayed by Mark Dacascos, previously seen in Drive) have been sent to investigate the beast by the King of France himself. Upon their arrival at the rural village that is the centre of the beasts attacks they will discover that very little is actually known of the beast (to the point where no one can even describe it accurately) apart from the fact that it preys on and brutally kills defenceless women and children.
The first thing you will notice about this $28million film is how it looks as though it was made for triple that amount. A mixture of some fantastic locations and the constantly inspiring cinematography means there is not a moment that goes by where you cannot help but be impressed with what is being projected onscreen. Within the first 10 minutes alone we see a sweeping look of the countryside as the beasts latest victim runs for her life. Seconds later we see the arrival of our heroes Fronsac and Mani, the heavens are open in the French countryside while our heroes witness a helpless old man and young lady being attacked by a group of men, here Mani steps up for the first of many superbly choreographed action scenes. Director Christophe Gans is a big fan of Hong Kong Movies (going so far as to have created his own DVD Label in France as an attempt to offer a French equivalent to Hong Kong Legends) and it really shows! With masterful control over the camera, the best use of slow motion since Face/Off, and the stunning physical ability of Mark Dacascos there is nothing here to not be happy about.
Over the course of the 140-minute running time the focus is obviously around our heroes unravelling the mystery of the beast, this creates a genuinely tense atmosphere that for myself meant my eyes were permanently glued to the screen. Interspersed with the various hunts and action sequences (which only get better as the film progresses!) are several other plot points including the slightly derivative (although accurate for the time) look at how society is ignorant towards the coloured man (in this case, Mani). Along with a touch of period drama, and the obvious horror element the other main subplot comes in the form of a delicately told love affair that develops between Fronsac and the quite exquisite Marianne de Morangias (a headstrong performance from Emilie Dequenne). From its deceptively simple seek and destroy beginnings Brotherhood of the Wolf develops into a film with a rather sinister storyline that only ups the ante for what must be one of the most intensely satisfying (and again, wonderfully choreographed) final showdowns witnessed by traditional Western audiences in a long time.
IF, I had to pick up on some faults then I, like others would have to say the lengthy running time could very well drag for some, especially upon a second viewing where a tighter running time eliminating some of the lesser plot points might very well improve your enjoyment of this film. However, this point is open to debate as Brotherhood of the Wolf is not on general release until October 19th, and when that time comes I believe I will find it every bit as engaging as I did the first time. Other niggles, well, the editing in the action sequences can sometimes be a little fast with a disappointing lack of the 'long shot' present (showcasing the action in full), and although this method neglects the needs of old style Hong Kong action fans to see long takes it is still riveting stuff and will surely play better to the majority of audiences as it has a far greater visual impact (and again, the use of slow motion almost puts Mr. Woo to shame!).
Although Brotherhood of the Wolf is at heart an action film the various other elements all combine to make what is in my opinion one of the best films of the year. From the great central performances to the simply beautiful cinematography and the downright jaw dropping action sequences Le Pacte Des Loups (it just sounds better that way!) offers that rare experience where you come out of the cinema on a high, feeling the need to discuss the film with friends for hours later as you analyse this triumph of French cinema. In a year of dire Hollywood attempts at the action genre Brotherhood of the Wolf is quite frankly a breath of fresh air that with a wide release and a decent marketing campaign has every chance of becoming the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and if that is not recommendation enough then I do not know what is!