Bootie and the Beast
French action epic Brotherhood of the Wolf offers a spicy stew
The action epic Brotherhood of the Wolf, a box office smash in Europe, might be viewed as a French take on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s got lots of extreme action in a period setting and the same kind of high-energy brio.
But it’s also a virtual anthology of Eurotrash genres—spaghetti western, martial-arts fandango, paranoid thriller, arty horror film, historical melodrama. And the end result resembles nothing more than The Last of the Mohicans retooled as a monster movie with kickboxing.
The mixture of story types is, as it turns out, part of the swaggering fun in this extravagantly spiced stew of a movie. Amid its baroque violence and hyped-up shock effects, Brotherhood of the Wolf also finds time for side trips into revisionist mythology and political-historical allegory.
Set in a mountainous region of France in the 18th century, the story centers on Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a scientist on horseback who has been sent to investigate The Beast, a mysterious monster that has been wreaking lethal havoc among the locals. Gregoire speaks for the Age of Reason in the story, but he is also a fully equipped movie adventurer with a working knowledge of the martial arts and no shortage in the libido department.
Gregoire’s quest for the monster sends him into a maelstrom of political and religious conspiracies and into a series of physical battles in which his allies include a mysterious courtesan (Monica Bellucci), a free-spirited aristocrat (Emilie Dequenne), and his poker-faced partner and “brother,” an Iroquois Indian named Mani (Mark Dascascos). His adversaries are harder to identify, but not for long.
Chief among the more ambiguous characters is an aristocrat (Vincent Cassel) with a missing hand. Cassel gives the best performance in the film, in part because he has the most bizarrely conflicted role—decadent aristocrat, bon vivant, megalomaniac, gun-lover, tortured soul.
Le Bihan is never much more than an oafish hunk, but that can’t matter much in this case. After all, he’s a very busy young man in a convoluted tale that has room for the French Revolution and an early version of the religious right before it’s done.