Brotherhood of the Wolf (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 'La Legend' - programme on the origins of The Beast; Theatrical trailer; 24 page booklet.

"EXPECT the unexpected," announced director Christophe Gans as he introduced his new movie, Brotherhood of the Wolf, to a cinema packed full of critics recently - and it is sound advice. Combining elements of werewolf-inspired horror, kick-arse action and sumptuous period costume drama, The Brotherhood of the Wolf is cinema at its most ambitious and impressive.

Visually seductive at all times, it is an art-house picture told on an epic scale - one which has already attracted over five million viewers in France and which looks set to build on the successes, this year, of previous foreign language films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Amelie.

Set in the 18th Century French countryside, when a legendary beast is mercilessly slaying women and children, Gans movie chronicles the attempts to capture it by a vastly different band of adventurers. The locals believe it to be a biblical curse - their fears stoked up by some shady religious types - but Samuel Le Bihan's Parisian biologist Gregoire de Fronsac is not convinced and, with the help of his Native American half-brother, Mani (impressively played by Hawaiian actor, Mark Dacascos), sets about uncovering the truth.

Standing in his path, however, are a number of corrupt aristocrats, some devious whores, a distracting love interest and her devious brother (Vincent Cassel) and all manner of countryside bandits. Brotherhood of the Wolf works well on so many levels that it is difficult not to find something to admire. It grabs the attention from the start and refuses to let go, despite a somewhat inflated two hour, 22 minute running time.

And while the finale is totally over the top and the `who-dunnit' element easy to decipher, there is so much grisly and sexy fun to be had that it is easy to forgive it such excesses. Gans direction is faultless throughout, in look and style, and by borrowing from so many different genres, he has managed to transfuse elements of Crouching Tiger, with those of the best period dramas and classics such as Last of the Mohicans.

As such, he draws terrific performances from all of his principles, with Cassel particularly effective as a creepy aristocrat, and Malena's Monica Bellucci having fun as a devious prostitute. In the lead role, Le Bihan is a suitably charismatic playboy who proves himself equally adept on the action front, but it is Dacascos, as Mani, who shamelessly hogs all of the best moments, frequently injecting proceedings with a furious energy whenever things threaten to sag.

In a year when foreign language films have finally emerged from the shadow of their Hollywood counterparts to make their own mark at the Box Office, this is another great example of film-making which does not always play to formula. See it.

DVD EXTRAS: Very few to speak of, but the trailer taps into the excitement of the film in fine fashion, while the documentary 'La Legend' offers an interesting insight into the true story behind the movie, as well as making comparisons with it. Included in the interview footage is an insight into why a wolf could not have been responsible for the attacks, the real criminals behind the attacks, and the reasons why a film should be made purely and simply about the legend itself - without the addition of the martial arts sequences that make Gans' movie the jaw-dropper that it is. The 24-page booklet offers good value for fans of the film as well, though, and is a worthy addition to any film fans' collection of memorabilia.