I like a movie that doesn’t spell it all out for you, a movie that creates its own world, its own mythology, and its own look. Constantine, where Keanu Reeves plays an ultra-depressed exorcist fighting lung cancer and trying to earn a berth in Heaven, is one of those movies.
Constantine has done a lot of good on the planet since his suicide attempt as a child, an attempt that resulted in a short trip to Hell and made him sort of an expert of the underworld. In the time since, he’s pulled many demons out of many possessed people and helped preserve an ancient agreement between angels and demons not to interfere with human lives. When the demons start getting a little more aggressive, Constantine comes to realize that maybe Lucifer himself is considering the possibility of a planetary vacation.
Because of his suicide attempt, Constantine knows he’s going to Hell. On one hand, he continues to do the work of the good in a bid for redemption. On the other, he chain smokes in an attempt to speed up the process of death and get it all over with. His character was spawned by the Hellblazer graphic novels, making this film yet another comic-book adaptation. Gladly, it’s an adaptation that works, perhaps even bettering the original source.
In the graphic novels, Constantine was modeled a bit after Sting, complete with spiky, “Synchronicity” hairdo. Purists might balk at the remodeling of the character in the person of Reeves, who takes on the part as if playing a 1940s Hollywood gumshoe with a penchant for profanity. If you dug Reeves’ low-key style in The Matrix, you shouldn’t have any problems with his performance in Constantine.
The film attempts to cover a lot of ground. There’s a large subplot involving a police officer’s (Rachel Weisz) investigation of her twin sister’s apparent suicide, and while this sometimes serves as an unwelcome distraction from the cool demon stuff, Weisz and Reeves pull off this portion of the story, for the most part.
First-time director Francis Lawrence is definitely somebody to keep track of. He proves himself capable of both creating an effective action film and being a potential master of horror. An early exorcism scene is creepier than any demon-possession scene since the original The Exorcist, and there are many hardcore scares in the movie. He and his crew have come up with one of the more original, disturbing versions of Hell ever put in a movie.
When Lucifer shows up in the guise of actor Peter Stormare (the “Where is Pancakes House?” guy from Fargo), it’s offbeat and strange enough to work on the freakiest of levels. Tilda Swinton does a risky turn as androgynous angel Gabriel, who has rather nefarious plans for planet Earth. In a surprising piece of casting, Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the extremely horrible band Bush, does a nice job as Balthazar the half-breed demon.
The movie has much talk about the end times and logistics involving demons, angels, God, the devil and so on. It gets a little confusing at times; this is a movie that requires the viewer to think a bit rather than sitting back and taking in all the pretty pictures.
Stick around after the credits for a little scene that could mean sequel, something I would like to see. Constantine appears to be the start of something with far more potential than Reeves’ Matrix series, a series that should’ve been one film long. It’s the first film of 2005 that I can easily say I liked a lot.