Wednesday, July 13, 2011
For me and my group of friends in high school, The Crow was one of those things that helped define our generation. If someone around you told you they liked the movie, you knew you had found a friend. Like anything of such popularity, it was only a matter of time before it also became a little played out. At my sophomore year Halloween dance, you probably could have made a game of counting Crows, there were so many guys there with their faces painted up. I remember my boyfriend at the time largely scoffed at it, announcing that it was now completely played out. I was inclined to agree with him, but I still watched the movie quite frequently on my own time.
A large part of its notoriety and popularity was related to Brandon Lee's death on set. A combination of the tragic accident combined with his own father's early death was just too good a story and so this otherwise unknown actor became instantly famous even before the movie was released. You have to wonder if anyone would have really noticed the film at all if he hadn't been killed by that blank bullet on set. Do all generations have these tragic heroes that they cling to? In my youth alone I remember girls fawning over not just Brandon but also Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley. I imagine a lot of this started with James Dean.
Personally, I think the movie still would have been a cult hit even without his death. The dark tones, his outfit, the music, the stylized violence – this movie was made for the counter culture to eat up and the mainstream to hate. In my junior year “morality” religion class, this movie was used as an example by a group of students trying to prove that the media was glorifying violence and leading our young minds to sin.
Perhaps because it was such a huge part of my teen years, I don't think I've watched this movie since then. I think the poorly done sequels had somewhat turned me off to the film and I simply didn't think about it very much anymore. For whatever reason it recently came back into my memory and I was anxious to see if it still held up with anything more than nostalgia for me.
The movie starts with the young Sarah narrating for us. The main issue with that is that her voice is rather gruff for an adolescent. She seems to have a permanent frog in her throat. Fortunately, the narration only occurs at the very beginning and ending of the film, so it doesn't get too annoying. She tells of the legend that crows carried souls from the land of the living to the land of the dead, but sometimes, if the soul had unfinished business, the crow would guide them back.
Eric Draven has been thrown from a window and his fiancee Shelly has been brutally beaten and raped and is now near death. She dies thirty hours later. Sarah is friends with them since her own mother doesn't have much time for her. The great Ernie Hudson plays a cop at the scene of the crime who is moved by what has happened – so moved that his insistence to get evidence eventually gets him demoted. You see, this is a corrupt city where gangsters run the place and justice is rarely served – essentially, Gotham City. One year after the event, nothing has been done, so the crow guides Eric Draven back to get his revenge. But first, shoes! No kidding, the very first thing the crow does is guide a very confused Draven toward a perfectly good pair of combat boots sitting in a dumpster. After that, it's time to catch the four men who attacked them that night, and eventually take down the big bad boss they work for.
Beyond being able to see through the crow's eyes, Draven also seems to be able to absorb memories both from people and objects. This is done in a very stylized fashion, as when he makes physical contact with something, we see what he's seeing, tinted in various colorful tones. Stylized, in fact, is the main word for this entire film. Nearly everything is tinted in blacks, red, and grays, dimly lit with a look of grime all over them. I've never read the comics this movie was based on, but from what I've seen, this does a pretty good job of mimicking their black and white gritty style. Basically, imagine Sin City without the benefit of nearly as much CGI, and personally, I think it is better for it. Perhaps it's because of when I was born, but I love movies like this. The influence of Burton's Batman films is evident, and the director, Alex Proyas, would revisit this style again later with Dark City.
The music is just as stylized. The score has an epic feel, and the movie is littered with songs from bands the likes of Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine, and Rollins Band. I don't know if I'm correct on this, but to me this is the beginning of the time when movie soundtracks could sell as popular albums. I wasn't going to get Nine Inch Nails' cover of “Dead Souls” anywhere else, and therefore I had to have it. The Cure song, "Burn," is forever linked to this movie for me thanks to the scene that plays in the film. Depending on your taste for this type of music, you may either feel like this makes the film extraordinarily dated or classic. Obviously, I fall on the classic side of things.
The violence is, in my opinion, fairly tame, and will definitely seem like absolutely nothing compared to modern standards. While Eric is a ruthless killer, all of his victims are portrayed as true evil and none show any sign of remorse for their crimes. Most of the actual violence happens off screen and we are only shown the after effects. Most of the gore is pretty fake and therefore not really brutal. The worst scene, in my opinion, is when a character gets their eyes poked out by the crow, and in typical fashion it is worse because of the series of cuts that show us little and therefore leave a lot to our imagination. I think the most glorified violence is some of the shootouts, which have a kind of John Woo style to them. It's extremely ironic given the nature of Brandon Lee's death.
I was told that he died from a blank bullet hitting him while standing on top of the table in the gangster's lair, though Wikipedia tells me that's not true. As such my feelings of that scene have always been tainted. Since the biggest shoot out of the movie occurs right after this point, it's kind of hard to feel excited about the bullets flying everywhere, even though this scene is incredibly well done. Perhaps this is why people complained of the violence in this movie – because I certainly don't see anything worse here than what I saw in Scarface which was made so many years before.
Brandon Lee is not the best actor, but his somewhat stoney delivery is well suited to a character who has been dead for a year and functions as an avenging angel. I feel like his acting gets stronger as the film goes on, though of course there's no way to know what sequence they were actually shot in. The most powerful moment comes as he confronts Sarah's mother and says to her: “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.” That line and scene have always stayed within my memory.
I think the film slows a bit once the four murderer/rapists have been killed. This is largely because the big bad is a little overly hokey – he and his “sister” do just about every bad thing anyone can possibly do. Michael Wincott and Bai Ling played it just a little too over the top, to the point that you are rolling your eyes at them more than being disgusted by them. It's logical that Eric will defeat them, but it just lacks much emotional weight. An end climax that contains a sword fight on a rooftop is also just a bit too cliche. On the other hand, the final revenge Eric takes is quite fitting and well done.
While I don't think this movie is an absolute classic, I think its strengths outweigh its weaknesses and its still an enjoyable film. It is a must see for any fan of gothic style or dark superheroes. Sadly Hollywood doesn't seem to agree with me, as they're planning on making a remake of this film already. Apparently anything nineties is just too dated.