Brotherhood of the Wolf
(Le Pacte des Loups)

The Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups)
Made in: France
Language: French
Director: Christophe Gans
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Mark Dacascos, Émilie Dequenne, Hans Meyer, Jean-François Stévenin
Year: 2001

Synopsis: Loosely based on a French legend about the Beast of Gévaudan, this film focuses on Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a knight and royal taxidermist. He's been sent by King Louis XV (15th) to the lush countryside of Gévaudan to capture and study a mysterious monster that's been going around killing people.

Its victims are mainly women and children, and all attempts to hunt it down have ended in failure.

Fronsac is accompanied by his best friend, Mani (Mark Dacascos), a wise Iroquois Indian who hates guns and inexplicably knows kung-fu (this is not a comedy, in case you were wondering).

Fronsac believes there's a logical explanation behind the beast. Being an expert in plants and animals, he believes he can find it, capture it, and draw detailed pictures of it for future study. The beast is described as being extremely large, and when Fronsac comes across one of its victims, estimates that it must weigh at least half a ton.

While at Gévaudan, Fronsac meets Jean-François de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), the local count's son. Jean-François is missing his right arm after an encounter with a lion in Africa, but he's still good with a gun and seems harmless enough. Fronsac then becomes interested in Jean-Françoi's sister, Marianne (Émilie Dequenne), who's always playing hard-to-get but secretly yearns for high adventure.

While visiting the local brothel, Fronsac also meets Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), an alluring Italian courtesan whose intelligence and mystique are only matched by the size of her...

...knives, which she keeps hidden in her chamber (what did you think I was going to say, you perverts?).

Politics, romance, philosophy, and violence get entangled as Fronsac closes in on the truth. The people of Gévaudan turn out to be a highly secretive lot, and the hunt for the beast starts revealing everyone's hidden motives. Eventually, Fronsac comes across a secret society known as The Brotherhood of the Wolf, a fanatical organization conspiring to overthrow the French government.

The Good: Director Christophe Gans definitely made a great-looking film. The cinematography, both interior and exterior, looked really good. The fight scenes, although anachronistic, were nonetheless exciting. Monica Bellucci was a very welcome addition to the story, and the versatile Vincent Cassel always plays an effective slime-ball of a villain.

The basic plot will make you think of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and there are many similarities between the two films. As with Burton's movie, The Brotherhood of the Wolf deals with balancing the rational and the supernatural, and comes up with a story that unfolds in a way that makes sense.

The Bad: The Brotherhood of the Wolf should have stuck to being a stylized action/suspense movie. It tries to look like an art film, and intentionally slows down so that it can remind us that this is also a serious period piece dealing with politics, emotion, and puffy wigs.

But with the fight sequences shot and choreographed with such slickness, it becomes a movie that tries appealing to two vastly different audiences. The result is a drawn-out ordeal that never fully satisfies fans of foreign films or mainstream action movies.

And finally, Samuel Le Bihan wasn't the best choice for an action hero, especially towards the film's conclusion. Although he's great during the film's slower parts, watching him beat down bad guys just looked a little funny. And with his flowing locks, he looked more like the lead singer of a forgotten 80s hard-rock band...only he's speaking French. Again, it just looked funny.

Who would like this movie: This one's for you if you're curious to see a Native American warrior use kung-fu against gypsy bandits in France...while trying to hunt down a mysterious monster that looks like the offspring of a porcupine and a Stegosaurus (ouch).

Christophe Gans should be applauded in that he somehow avoided making a goofy B-movie. But dare I say if this had been either a cult B-action flick or even a comedy, it might have become an instant classic among pop culture fans. In other words, The Brotherhood of the Wolf film shouldn't have taken itself so seriously.

(2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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