Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups) (review)

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Wolf It Up

Naturalist, adventurer, libertine, and wit, Le Chevalier Grégoire de Fronsac swaggers into the rural village of Gévaudan like Sherlock Holmes, the aristocrat descending among the peasants to solve their inscrutable mystery, one the local middle-class flatfoots can’t budge. With his Dr. Watson, Mani– No, wait.

Grégoire de Fronsac skulks into the remote town of Gévaudan like Fox Mulder, determined to end up with more unanswered questions than when he started about the apparently supernatural beast stalking the locals. With his Scully, Mani– No, wait.
Grégoire de Fronsac rides into the rural village of Gévaudan like the Lone Ranger, the fearless dealer-outer of peace and justice heeding the call for help from defenseless townfolk under siege. With his Tonto, Mani — yes, this is it — with his Tonto, Mani, an Iroquois Indian he brought back with him from New France (Canada, to us Anglos), he will protect the innocent and ensure the evildoers get what’s coming to ’em.

It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink flick, is Brotherhood of the Wolf — director Christophe Gans and his coscreenwriter Stephane Cabel are clearly fans of American television, of Hollywood films, of Hong Kong martial arts, of classic pulp literature, and they throw a bit of it all into this horror-action-costume drama. And damn if it doesn’t work. Fabulously overblown — as all good action movies should be — and hauntingly silly, this is one movie not to miss if kick-ass kung-fu fights, and hellish beasts, and the-peasants-are-revolting, and extremely cool clothes worn by gorgeous people with delicious accents, and swordfights, and crossbows, and secret societies, and revenge are your cup of filmic tea. Cuz while there’s not a lot of money in revenge, it sure is fun as hell.

So, Grégoire de Fronsac (the gorgeously big, brawny, and blond Samuel Le Bihan) rides into the rural village of Gévaudan — this is prerevolution 18th-century France, so he gets to wear amazing leather coats and tricorn hats — on a mission from the king to bring down the strange Beast that has been terrifying the town and mutilating women and children. With him is Mani (the exotically gorgeous Mark Dacascos) — as a Native American, he wears loincloths a lot, which lets him show off his amazing tattoos — who is apparently from Canada by way of Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong, because if John Wayne had ever faced any Indians with moves like Mani, he’d’ve gotten his ass kicked in the first reel every time. The locals think the Beast is a renegade wolf — Fronsac thinks otherwise. While in Gévaudan, Fronsac’s condescending superiority and nosing around will piss off a lot of people who’d rather the secret of the Beast not be learned, or who would prefer the appearance of a solution to the mystery if genuine answers cannot be found quickly. But you knew his assignment wouldn’t be easy, right?

Is Brotherhood about Reason Versus Superstition (Fronsac’s scientific approach to solving the mystery butting up against the Church, which thinks the Beast is a manifestation of the devil, a punishment for some societal sin or other)? Is it City Versus Country (Fronsac’s suave urban sophisticate amongst the people of Gévaudan, where even the local aristocrats are rural rubes)? Is it Civilization Versus Nature (the Beast the natural world’s revenge against the corrupting influence of humankind)? Is it Paganism Versus Catholicism? Is the Beast a metaphor for the revolution to come? For corruption among the ruling elite? For the perils of technology?

Um, well, yes, it’s all these things, contradictorily and confusingly, if you think about it too much. So don’t think about it too much. Brotherhood of the Wolf is best dealt with merely as an extremely elegant — and extremely violent — monster movie: Jaws times The Matrix plus Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Plus, to distract you from all the silly Important Themes frothing underneath the action, there’s romance and sex: Fronsac chases the lovely Marianne de Morangias (the Kate Winslet-esque Emilie Dequenne), and when he finds her even more elusive than the Beast, he turns to the, er, courtesan Sylvia (the beautiful Monica Bellucci) for comfort. Yeah, Fronsac is kind of a cad, but that’s why we love him. And all the free love has something to do with the paganism, I think. Not that it matters. Man, this cast is easy on the eyes. And the gals get to Do Stuff, too, like ride horses like men (none of that sissy side-saddle nonsense) and plot and scheme. Very cool.

Of course, the crowd most likely to get the biggest kick out of Brotherhood of the Wolf is also likely to be scared off by subtitles. Too bad. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Watch Brotherhood of the Wolf online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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