There are some movies that present a rather difficult dilemma towards the reviewers. Those dilemmas are often associated with circumstances not directly related to the film itself. One of the examples is The Crow, 1994 dark fantasy film directed by Alex Proyas. Instead of being remembered by its own merit, this is film that will always be associated with the tragedy that happened during its shooting - the accident that claimed the life of its lead actor, 28-year old Brandon Lee. As it usually happens with stars who perish in their youths, they become immortal and legend of The Crow also grew from many rather sinister coincidences. Brandon Lee was the only son of Bruce Lee, legendary star of 1970s kung fu movies, whose death was also premature. And the story of The Crow is also macabre one, based on dark underground comic book. All that ensured that The Crow would almost immediately get cult status, many critics raved about it, and such status was kept for the next five years. But now, we are faced with the question - is it really worth it? Or is it cruel to trash movie for whom some people literally gave their lives?
The plot of the film is rather simple one, and it shouldn't surprise anyone, since it is based on a comic book by James O'Barr. In Detroit, city that resembles dark, gothic visions of Burton's Batman, night before Halloween is called "Devil's Night" because local hoodlums, led by evil Top Dollar (played by Michael Wincott), organise mass arsons in residential areas. During one of such instances, rock musician Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee) is killed together with his fiancée in the eve of their wedding. But one year later, the crow, which, according to legend, leads the souls of the dead to another world, brings Eric back from the grave. Now he is back on earth in order to make things right and avenge his own death and the death of the loved ones. His revenge would be witnessed through the eyes of Sarah (played by Rochelle Davis), little girl who used to be Eric's friend.
Brandon Lee was killed before the movie had been finished, and it shows in the final product. Filmmakers used variety of techniques - stunt doubles, special shots and new, computer-generated graphics - in order to hide that fact, but those efforts, although very effective and commendable, still failed. And, as a result, the main character – The Crow - simply isn't as charismatic and effective as it should have been. The screenplay by David J. Schow and John Shirley did another disservice to his character, because it provided him with corny, forgettable lines and made other, minor characters, more memorable. Brandon Lee as an actor is capable in his last role, although his action routines are more effective than his acting. Still, this film showed that he had a lot of potential, and the his death, in the light of this fact, becomes even more tragic. The acting belongs to minor actors, and this film features plenty of them - Ernie Hudson as sympathetic detective, Michael Wincott, Michael Massee, David Patrick Kelly and Jon Polito as villains, Rochelle Davis as Sarah.
However, the acting can't hide the fact that this film is less about story and characters and more about visuals and atmosphere. Proyas, who had begun his career directing videoclips (which became rather disdainful background these days) employed a lot of talent in order to make this film heavy with the dark atmosphere of gritty, rainy megalopolis without hope for its inhabitans. This atmosphere is helped with the very effective cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and impressive musical score by Graeme Revell. On the other hand, like many directors who came to Hollywood from videoclip industry, Proyas has some problems in direction of action scenes, especially when they engage more than few characters. On the other hand, scenes of Crow's revenge on individual villains are quite effective, although heavy metal tunes often seem annoying.
So, finally, I can finish this review by stating that The Crow doesn't deserve its cult status. But, in the same time, it must be praised as very good film, better than most of the Hollywood products in comic book adaptation category. And, last, but not least, The Crow is more than sufficient cinematic epitaph for Brandon Lee.
RATING: 7/10 (+++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on June 8th 1999)
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