Release Date:  February 18, 2005
Rating:  R (for violence and demonic images)
Genre:   Action/Thriller/Fantasy
Run Time:    121 min.
Director:    Francis Lawrence
Actors:   Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vance, Tilda Swinton, Gavin Rossdale

There’s been a lot of talk about this film representing good and evil.  And maybe I’m missing something, but I just didn’t see it.  What I did see was a bizarre portrayal of demonic and the occult, with virtually no representation of God or anything good.

In a remote Mexican desert, a peasant discovers a spear wrapped in a Nazi flag. Called the Spear of Destiny, it is the same weapon that was used by the Roman Centurion to test whether Christ was dead, after he had been nailed to the cross. According to legend, those who possess the spear have supernatural abilities, which explains how the peasant not only survives a violent death but manages to walk to Los Angeles (borders not included).

In an L.A. barrio, a young woman is writhing in angst, screaming obscenities.  Her priest (Pruitt Taylor Vance) calls in Constantine (Keanu Reeves), who for some reason has the supernatural ability to recognize “half-breeds” – beings created when demons mated with humans – and send demons back to Hell. This drove Constantine insane as a teen and he eventually took his own life. But he was sent back, and he hopes that somehow, his exorcisms will win God’s favor.  Constantine smokes like a fiend and has terminal lung cancer, but knows he’s going to Hell because of his suicide. The androgynous, mysterious Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) tells him that instead, he needs to have faith and repent, but Constantine shrugs off that idea.

He delivers the Latina of her demon, but is particularly disturbed by its violent force.  After being attacked by another demon on the street, Constantine starts to suspects that something is off with “the balance,” that wager between God and Satan which means that demons and angels must have no direct contact with humans – only influence. 

When a police detective (Rachel Weisz) insists that Constantine help her prove her sister’s death was not a suicide but a murder – so that she can have a proper Christian burial – Constantine resists, but soon comes to her aide.  This involves visiting Hell, which one can only do by dying a self-inflicted death. So Constantine straps himself to an electric chair and “dies,” then visits Hell.  He also discovers a plot about the birth of Satan’s son, which is revealed in an extended version of the book of Corinthians, contained in the “Satanic Bible.”  Supposedly, Satan needs a “medium” to bear his son, and the good detective has been chosen.

The most overwhelming problem with this film is its theology, which undergirds the storyline at every point.  For some, this may not be so obvious, but even the most nominal churchgoer will notice glaring contradictions.  I happen to have a degree in the subject, so it hammered at me like a contractor behind schedule.  There are truths in “Constantine,” to be sure – but they are few and far between.  The film accurately presents the notion that good and evil are at work in the world, and that angels and demons try to influence us so that God or Satan can win our souls for the hereafter.  A place called Hell – which is fairly well represented in this version – also does indeed exist.  Presented as a barren, fire-consumed wasteland, this portrayal will have even the staunchest of atheists a little concerned.