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THE CROW, 1975
Cast: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis, Ling Bai, David Patrick Kelly
On Devils night in Detroit, the streets glow red with fire. Anarchy is unleashed once a year by the criminal underworld. Eric Draven and his fiance Shelley, are brutally murdered on this destructive night, by a gang of criminals. A year later, Draven emerges from his grave. He’s a wandering soul, brought back to right the wrongs against him and Shelley. Seemingly invincible, Draven sets about tracking down and killing the gang members responsible for raping and killing Shelley, and for his own demise. However Draven attracts the attention of crime lord Top Dollar, and his black magic loving half-sister and lover, Myca.
The Crow is of course a film of infamy. It’s well known as the film in which Brandon Lee, tragically died, just shy of the films completion, following an on set accident. Indeed when the film came out, morbid curiosity drew spectators out to see a film that perhaps would not have been their usual preference. However as tragic as Lee’s demise was (sadly echoing his legendary fathers own young demise), it should be noted that the film is not merely worthwhile viewing for it’s macabre and eerie similarities between real life and the films themes (Lee after plays a man taken before his time, and it was in filming Dravens death sequence, that the accident occurred), but this is a film made with passion, vision, and artistic flourish. It is also a film that was to prove, Brandon Lee had the makings to be a fine actor, to perhaps cross the middle ground that exists between the action actor, and the dramatic actor. While other genre contemporaries (such as Van Damme, who’s now much improved as a thespian) often stuck within the limitations of the stoic, strong silent type character, Lee showed range. He was also naturally very charismatic indeed. In addition in the action, he was an accomplished martial artist and physical performer.
As Draven, Lee brings a real level of pathos. In truth, the film has an extra degree of emotional resonance because of the circumstances befalling it’s lead actor. You can’t help but feel a little more poignancy about Draven, because of what happened to Lee, but take nothing away from him, he departed this world, having delivered a moving, and multi-layered performance. Based of the comic book by James O’Barr, this is an extremely dark, and gothic tale, and indeed the whole creation of The Crow mythology came about from O’Barr’s own anguish and personal suffering following the death of his fiancé at the hands of a drunk driver. His writing, and his art, are seeped in emotion. To take such material and do it justice was a tall order. It’s something Hollywood more often than not will merely take the safe route. They’ll water down the whiskey, and thus alleviate the punch it should deliver. But the combination in particular of Lee’s performance, and Alex Proyas visuals is often mesmerising.
Proyas had no real artistic collateral coming into this film. Granted, it was low budget, and not a huge risk, but having only done a few little seen Aussie films, and music videos, Proyas had no clout to speak of. As luck would have it, though things weren’t always entirely his way, Proyas was given enough freedom to deliver a vision that has managed to satisfy the original author (and that is quite a rarity in cinema). An almost monochrome pallet, with harsh lighting, damp grimy sets, lashing rain, gothic imagery, and set entirely at night, Proyas crafts a film that dazzles the eye. It’s a beautiful film indeed. Aided by his fellow mise-en-scene departments, Proyas strong, and self assured, vision comes to life wonderfully. The sets are great, the lighting, the production design, the costumes.
Aiding Lee’s brilliant central performance, is a fine supporting cast. Ernie Hudson is excellent. Young actress Rochelle Davis is also very good in her only role (the death of Lee, who had become a close friend, affected her profoundly, at the time and for many years after). Elsewhere, David Patrick Kelly is as ever reliable, and Ling Bai is as barmy as she is in real life. Michael Wincott as well, as brilliant as chief villain. It’s a role of swaggering, involved awesomeness. Wincott is totally into the role, and puts himself up there with some of the best villains. He’s got the devilish twinkle in the eye.
The action is very good. Lee knows his stuff and gets to deliver some beat downs, while the shootouts are also nicely done. In addition the soundtrack is grungey and angst-ridden, suiting the film down to a tee. Graeme Revell, often a deliverer of middle of the road, forgettable film scores, delivers one of his finest works, if not his best. It really adds a layer to the atmosphere of the film.
Overall, this is a film for the ages, dealing with relatable themes. It’s an emotional send off, for an actor who had real potential, and it’s a visual delight. Proyas followed up with the also brilliant Dark City, another film painted with the strokes of an artist delivering a masterpiece. Sadly since then he’s nose-dived into Hollywood mediocrity, and his visual flourishes have been muted and restrained. Of late there’s been talk of a Crow re-boot, but like many Crow fans, I find the idea repugnant. A film that would undoubtedly be delivered to the Twilight brigade, with the same level of hackneyed, soulless, mediocrity as that film. The artistic vision and dramatic weight of the original should be embraced and re-watched, not re-made.