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Friday, September 4, 2015
Oh The Horror!: The Crow (1994)
I'm as shocked as you are that I had never seen The Crow before this week. Released in 1994, the film is an eccentric blend of Gothic romance, superhero fantasy, and vigilante drama. The Crow manages to visit some dark places without ever dwelling in them for too long, which helps to explain it's longevity and cult fan base. While it's surrounded by an omnipresent oppressive atmosphere, the film still inserts some glimpses of light that allow the film to not only have an underlying sweetness to it (a midst all the killing), but also a sense of fun and playfulness as well. Mostly, though, The Crow is remembered as the last film of Brandon Lee, son of the late Bruce Lee, who was killed during filming due to an actual bullet being dislodged from a gun barrel by a blank. While it was most certainly a tragic accident, it does lend the film and Lee's character of Eric Draven a haunting, ghost-like quality. While no film or performance can justify the death of an actor or crew member, those deaths certainly can change the way we view and experience a film. Since it sounds like the film is going to be remade/rebooted sometime soon (with Luke Evans in the role of Eric Draven), perhaps now is as good a time as ever to reexamine this modern cult classic. More thoughts after the break....
I've said it many times before and surely will repeat it many times in the future, but there is no better way to get an audience to sympathize with the main character and to get wrapped up in a film than to present them with an atrocity against a character and then allow that character to seek his or her revenge. From the beginning, even if we can't identify with The Crow's gothic setting or rock musician characters, we can identify with the horror of watching a loved one being brutalized and murdered in our own home and feel that Draven has been gifted by being allowed to come back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancee's deaths. While we only get brief glimpses of Eric's fiancee Shelly (Sofia Shinas) through flashbacks and memories, the film uses these to help us experience Eric's pain. Particularly, we begin to see the type of people Shelly and Eric were through the experiences of Sarah (Rochelle Davis), a young girl for whom Eric and Shelly cared for in the absence of her mother, and through the convictions of Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), a police officer who has been haunted by the unsolved murder of these two individuals.
Adding to the audience's desire to see Eric Draven get his revenge and vengence are a nasty assortment of villiains led by T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly, aka Sully in Commando and Jerry Horne on Twin Peaks), and Top Dollar (Michael Wincott), who really calls the shots. While Kelly's T- Bird is just a nasty, whiny street thug, Wincott's Top Dollar shows glimpses of true evil. They represent everything that's wrong with the city of Detroit as portrayed in the film. It's ravaged by crime and fires, especially over the Devil's Night on which much of the film ocurrs. The atmosphere of the city very much reminds me of the narrows of Gotham as seen in Batman Begins, although there certainly are more gothic elements more fitting of the Gotham of the Burton Batman films.
The film is truly held together by the strong performance of Brandon Lee as Eric Draven. Lee manages to portray Draven as simultaneously violent and ruthless in his attitudes towards his victims (the men who murdered him), while being kind-hearted and good-natured towards everyone else. For someone overcome with so much angst and tragedy, there's still a lightness to his spirit. He manages to inject a sweet-natured humor in unlikely places, such as when he removes a cigarette from Sgt. Albrecht's mouth, stating "those things will kill you." While Draven is a bringer of death to those in need of retribution, he functions as a bringer of life to those caught in the middle of situations which they can't avoid. Watching the movie, I kept wondering if the late Heath Ledger based any of his mannerisms for his portrayal of the Joker on Lee's Draven, as there are definitely some similarities. Of course, there are also the similarities that both roles featured the actors wearing white makeup and were released posthumously, so perhaps I'm looking for more than what's really there.
While the 1980's saw a surge in popularity of over the top action stars, the 90's seemed to usher in an era of angst-filled anti-heroes. While some of the special effects are obviously dated by today's standards, and one can make an argument that many of the film's personalities are caricatures rather than characters, The Crow still stands out as a solid film. Above all, Lee's haunting, tragic presence envelops this film, lending a gravity and solemness to the moody atmosphere, solid action sequences, and Draven's quest for retribution.