In Which I am Not Disappointed by Constantine

As promised in a previous column I went to see Constantine last weekend. I was filled with trepidation for a couple of reasons. I was still stuck in "Keanu as Constantine? Why? Am I dreaming?" mode and I saw that the film seemed to be wracking up only negative reviews. The only thing good I heard about it was that the special effects were stellar. But a promise is a promise so off I went.

I am very pleased to be able to say that my test audience and I enjoyed the film. Several years ago, when I saw the abysmal Batman and Robin, I invented a rating scale based on how much knitting I could get done during the boring parts of a film. For instance I made an entire scarf while suffering through Batman and Robin and I did ten rows of a sweater during Unbreakable. I didn't even take my knitting out of the bag during Constantine.

The story was written by Kevin Brodbin. He's a Hellblazer fan from way back and this script was a dream come true for him. His love for his material shines throughout the movie. He has an innate understanding of who Constantine is, how he has to disengage from the world in order to survive with his peculiar talent, and how, despite his intentions, he is always pulled back into the world and forced to face his emotions and his more noble self.

I was particularly pleased by the clever focus on Constantine's cigarettes at the beginning of the film. As any Hellblazer fan knows, Constantine's cigarettes are as much a part of his persona as Bond's gadgets are to Bond. The director was able to highlight the cigarettes in such a way that they were almost a leading character without being annoyingly obvious.

I'm sure that by now you are dying to know how Keanu was. Over all he was not bad. When he was quiet and cynical and detached he was quite believable. It was only when he was being passionate and loud that he rang false. Maybe he felt a little silly yelling some of the lines or maybe it’s just me.

Luckily some of the other actors were good enough to carry the film through the patchy spots. Rachel Weisz put in a stark, tortured performance as the grieving and determined Angela. She also does a terrific job playing her own twin sister, Isabel. Shia LaBeouf is charming as Chas Chandler, Constantine's sidekick who is willing to do just about anything but follow directions if he can only get in on the real action. Tilda Swinton was perfect in the role of the androgynous Gabriel. (Ooh I am very excited to see she will be playing the White Witch in the upcoming The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. That should be really interesting.) I loved Peter Stormare as Lucifer, or Lou as Constantine called him in just one of many darkly humorous moments. He's jolly, he's insane, he's evil and he's compelling.

The special effects in this film are getting loads of attention. In fact I have seen several reviews saying they are the only good thing about the movie. I thought they were good without being overpowering. When I saw Armageddon I kept thinking, "there's a money shot, and another, and look one more" until I was rather bored. That doesn't happen with Constantine. The effects are seamless and polished and blend very well with the entire piece.

I love the camerawork in this film. The whole thing has a dark, claustrophobic feel that works really nicely to help the viewer feel the same sense of urgency as the protagonists. The first couple minutes of the movie are misleading. It starts with a shot of a dog scraping around in the ground in a desert like area and then someone finds something under the ground. I was thinking, "Oh man, how many times have we seen a movie start out like this?" but thankfully it quickly left Clicheland and went to Los Angeles instead. (Yes I do see how Los Angeles and Clicheland could be one and the same but you see what I mean, right?) Be sure to stay for the entire film. That means credits too. I suspect only a tiny percentage of the audience will ever see the whole film.

I think my favorite part of Constantine is the questions it raised. My test audience and I were still discussing it and asking each other philosophical and religious questions several days after we walked out of the theater. And as more than one person has said, it makes you want to go and sin no more.