by Del Harvey
“God is a little boy with an ant farm…”
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In director Francis Lawrence’s interpretation of the long-running comic book Hellblazer, Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, only in this case he’s a late-30’s, chain-smoking loner who fights against the Devil’s horde in the dark back alleys of Los Angeles. A far cry from the comic’s “master of the occult” living in a foggy London, this Constantine is a reluctant witness to all that is unholy in our modern world, openly conversing with cast-out angels (Gabriel, played to androgynous perfection by Tilda Swinton) and half-breeds (half-demon/half-human Gavin Rossdale) and fighting full-fledged demons on the mean streets of Los Angeles.
The story: God so loved the world that he gave his only son; but Lucifer had a son, too…Mammon. Seems there are bibles in Hell as well as on Earth, with whole new chapters written for how the world will turn out. And Lucifer’s nasty little chip-off-the-old-block is just itching to break the Golden Rule which God and Lu have upheld for centuries: don’t cross over completely into the human world. It’s okay to wander around and whisper into our ears, but don’t show yourselves and don’t openly affect anything mankind does. Well, kids will be kids, and doggonit, the little tykes just like to bend and break the rules every now and then. So the few who among us who really know what’s going on, the few who can “see” the never-ending battle between Heaven and Hell…well, there’s only one person they trust. He’s not a believer, he’s a knower, and he’s the only one who can save us.
Reeves does a very fine job of portraying the hardcore Constantine, a man who is so over this life that he’s killed himself once already, but cynicism being his true nature, was not surprised he had to come back to Earth and atone for his sins by being a protector to his fellow humans. Reeves does a fine job of convincing us he is John Constantine. And director Francis Lawrence’s first feature film is almost equally as convincing. The dramatic moments are handled with sensitivity and the action sequences are strong and the supernatural moments are handled much better than in most horror films. But this director of music videos seemed to have a hard time ending his first-time feature. Not that it was bad; it just did not match the convincing and powerful imagery and action and drama which came before. In all fairness, it was logical and true to the Bible…mostly. It was just the letdown of the last few minutes that prevent me from giving this film any higher praise.
Supporting Reeves are Rachel Weisz, lovely auburn haired actress who has really showcased her talent for drama in the past few years and continues her proclivity for strong dramatic roles here. Veteran character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince is a superb supporting actor and his performance, although much too brief, is equal to any other in the film. Djimon Hounsou (In America) is memorable as Poppa Midnite, a “bartender” for a downtown underground dive that offers some sort of “common ground” for the half-breeds and believers to mingle. Shia LaBeouf is Chas Chandler, another seer who is, as Constantine describes him, a sort of Tonto or Robin to his character. And the ever odd Peter Stormare (Fargo, Armageddon) portrays a delightfully deranged Lucifer.
To true fans of Hellblazer, I wish I could say I read these books, but the truth is I have not. I cannot tell you how the film compares to the comic. But to filmgoers I can tell you it’s better than The Punisher or Daredevil, but not near as good as Spider-Man 2. Is it worth seeing? Yeah. If you like your heroes of the anti- variety, constantinely smoking and drinking and cracking wise to Him. Of course, he does know The Guy on a first-name basis; so I guess he gets special priviledges.
Del Harvey is a writer and screenwriting teacher living in Chicago.
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