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The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnson

review by J.C. Hartley

Some critics in dealing with this film have purported to detect in the final product the evidence of a troubled production. Four years since the announcement of this remake of Universal's 1941 classic (with Lon Chaney Jr and Bela Lugosi), after directorial changes and re-shoots, the end result isn't as disappointing as some would have you believe.

Lawrence Talbot, a distinguished Shakespearean actor, is encouraged to return to his family home at Blackmoor after correspondence from Gwen (Emily Blunt) the fianc´┐Że of his late brother. His brother's body has been found torn to shreds by a mystery assailant, the third such killing in recent months. Lawrence is greeted by his father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and it is clear there is some coolness between them.

Villagers are sure that the killings are the work of an ancient dancing-bear kept by a party of gypsies encamped nearby; Lawrence's visit to the gypsy camp coincides with a visit by some villagers that are intent on killing the bear. Unfortunately for all concerned, the real killer attacks, slaughtering many and savagely biting Lawrence in the neck. A police officer, Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix), arrives from London and makes it clear that with Lawrence's history of disturbance and a period incarcerated in an institution he is a suspect in his brother's slaying. Lawrence suffers traumatic dreams and flashbacks to the death of his mother who slit her own throat, and the brief alarming vision of a feral human child.

The next day, the villagers attempt to capture Lawrence, fearing the worst after his wounding, but his father rescues him. On the next full moon, Lawrence discovers his father in a specially prepared room in the family mausoleum. There is a shrine to Lawrence's late mother, and a chair fitted with shackles, ripped as if by claws. While Sir John locks himself into the room, Lawrence outside transforms into a werewolf and slaughters some of the villagers who have prepared a trap for him.

Lawrence is arrested and transferred to the institution where he spent time after the death of his mother. His father visits him and reveals that he was bitten by a feral wolf-child while on an expedition to India. Sir John was responsible for the death of Lawrence's mother and subsequently managed to control the beast with the help of Singh his manservant. The arrival of Gwen at Talbot Hall made it harder for him to control his urges and after escaping he began his killing-spree. Now, almost certainly insane, Sir John revels in the freedom the beast affords him.

Lawrence vows to escape and kill his father and gets his chance when the psychiatrist in charge of his brutal treatment uses him as a lecture subject during the next full moon. Lawrence escapes causing havoc on the London streets. He travels back up to Blackmoor, pursued by Inspector Aberline, and Gwen - who thinks she can save him.

The Wolfman uses chillingly effective montage dream sequences in a similar manner to An American Werewolf In London. The performances are subtle, although Benicio del Toro's Lawrence is particularly languid, and Hugo Weaving rather goes through the motions, with a script that offers him little apart from a nice speech ordering a pint of bitter. Emily Blunt is excellent, and Hopkins, who has been accused of hamming it up, gives a measured portrait of evil invigorated by the excesses that the beast has released in him.

The transformation scenes are excellent and the make-up harks back to the original movie, avoiding the overgrown poodle effect from American Werewolf. Some of the gore seems as if it belongs in another movie, the villagers of Blackmoor are timeless dog-toothed and mutton-chopped extras from another era, and the sympathetic portrayal of the gypsies reflects our enlightened times.

Finally, it is good to see that despite warnings to the contrary, and with a murderous werewolf on the rampage, people continue to leave the safety of their homes and travel abroad on the night of a full moon.

The Wolfman poster



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