There is only one French word you need to know before seeing this French import, clich. Artists steal, or “borrow” as they sometimes call it, from other artists all the time. This is especially true in film new directors go back and study the classics, whether they think this means Truffaut, Scorsese, or the Wachowski Brothers, and then apply old techniques to their own. “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is a mishmash of plot devices and sometimes actual sequences that are directly lifted from many of the best (but also some flawed) American action/adventure films of the past 15 years this is especially surprising since “Brotherhood” is a film coming from France, known originally as “Le Pacte des Loups.”
While “Brotherhood” was a huge hit in its native country, this does not seem as possible here in the U.S., because for all its tricks and martial arts action, there is nothing we haven”t seen before. Still, the film remains mildly entertaining for most of its running-time because it steals the best from the best and due to its casting of some good and good looking actors in its lead roles.
The plot involves the supposedly true story of a wolf-like creature roaming the countryside of a region in France, terrorizing the general public and killing women and children. The local investigators do not satisfy the King, so he sends anthropologist and all-around hero Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), who brings a new friend he brought back from America, Iroquois Indian Mani (Mark Dacascos).
Fronsac pulls an Ichabod Crane, not believing the mystical explanations he is given, but instead figuring a man is behind it all. While hunting the beast, Fronsac finds time to make many advances on beautiful, hard-to-get local Marianne (Emilie Dequenne), who of course falls for him fast. This angers her incest-wanting brother, Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel), a one-armed man with silver bullets awaiting the beast or any other wolves that get in his way (a note of caution to you PETA lovers out there, if you have a fondness for wolves, especially when they are alive, don”t see this movie).
“Brotherhood” has been tapped by many as the next “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and its producers hope it will be as much of a crossover box-office hit. However, “Brotherhood” cannot boast of the cleverness, romance, or beautifully shot action sequences “Crouching Tiger” provided. “Brotherhood” has romance, but it either involves sex with a mysterious, beautiful prostitute (Monica Bellucci) or pick-up lines you can hear at your local bar. Christopher Gans” film also includes many martial arts battles, but sometimes the camera moves so fast that you can”t tell what exactly is going on, or the editing is so obvious that you can imagine the filming process going hit by kick by hit with extended breaks in between.
Dacascos is a Hawaiian martial arts champion who couldn”t quite cut it in American movies (“Only the Strong”) or American television (“The Crow: Stairway to Heaven) and as hard as they try to make Mani the biggest badass since Shaft, the slow-motion hair wagging and Native American g-strings elicit more laughter than excitement. Also, Le Bihan is surprisingly the better of the two actors in terms of martial arts skills, being a part of the best fight sequence in the film. Both get to do their best Indiana Jones, Neo and the last Mohican (Nathaniel) impersonations but they all fail to compare to their much superior originals.
Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, “Brotherhood” goes on way after the time that we care about what the truth behind the wolf is. The answers finally come and we shrug, because the filmmakers think they have a clever solution but they have provided us with a film much like most American action films, where it never actually matters who the bad guy is all that matters is that he gets what”s coming to him.
“Brotherhood of the Wolf” is essentially a French tribute to America”s action clichs that tarnishes its occasional enjoyable moments with an overabundance of visual tricks and an overindulgence in its own narrative that will leave you yearning for the days when American directors learned their trade by studying European films and not vice-versa.