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Brotherhood of the Wolf

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Brotherhood of the Wolf
from Film Forum, 01/17/02

Who's afraid of the big bad Beast of Gevaudan? There really is a story in the history books about a wolfish beast that crept about at night and devoured unfortunate peasants in 18th-century France during the reign of Louis XV. Brotherhood of the Wolf takes that obscure bit of history and runs with it, creating a violent, intense, bloody epic.

Two heroes ride into town to try to end the terror. Gregroire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a David Lee Roth look-alike, is a Frenchman sent by the king to hunt the animal. His friend is Mani, an Iroquois warrior that Gregoire befriended in America and brought to France. In spite of the racist attitudes of his countrymen, Gregroire respects Mani and admires his tracking instincts. They're a formidable team, but the more they investigate, the more it becomes clear that they aren't just fighting a monster; they're fighting a conspiracy of dangerous men.

It's definitely awe-inspiring. But parents, don't be fooled—this is not just another thrill-a-minute adventure with cool heroes and Matrix-style martial arts fighting. While the scenery is great and the story compelling, this is the bloodiest movie to come along in quite a while, positively reveling in slow-motion footage of cruel violence. The camera worships the wrathful vengeance of its heroes; one even goes so far as to scalp an enemy and flaunt the bloody trophy.

The film transgresses in other ways as well. There are also several unnecessary scenes set in a brothel merely for the opportunity to put scantily clad women onscreen. If this was essential to the story, that would be one thing, but this is merely decadence. While the movie frowns on religious hypocrisy, it seems to count promiscuity among a hero's proper virtues. The hero of this story feels free to sleep with any prostitute he likes, even as he's trying to woo what he calls his "true love." Isn't there a conflict of interest there?

It's not all bad. The performances are better than in your typical martial arts film. The cinematography would earn an Oscar nomination if Oscar-voters paid enough attention to foreign films. And the action is truly spectacular. While the editing chops up the scenes far too much, the choreography and acrobatics of the combatants are amazing.

Brotherhood is one of many period pieces that portray the Roman Catholic Church as a sinister body, carrying out great evil under the banner of God's will. It's worth mentioning that Christians have carried out gross evils in many of history's darker periods, and thus artists have every right to portray the Church's flaws. (I just wish they noticed all of the things that the Church does right once in a while.) But it's interesting that while the film writes off Christians, it goes on to tell a Christ story with its own symbolism. The hedonistic hero is promiscuous, arrogant, and hyper-violent, but he also lays down his life for his friends. And he is given a sort of symbolic death and resurrection before it's over. Incredible—even as the movie makes narrow-minded generalizations about the evils of religion, it is acting out the basic stages of a Passion play, and echoing the true drama of a Christ who conquers death and saves people from the Beast. As always, a story told well, no matter how hard it tries to avoid the truth, betrays humankind's built-in need for a savior who conquers death. A good story requires good design, and good design reflects God's pattern for creation, one way or the other.

That's not a recommendation, though. Brotherhood climbs the heights of implausibility, and shamelessly panders to the appetites of adolescent action-film lovers. Mainstream critics enjoy the indulgence. "The one thing you don't want to do," says Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), "is take this movie seriously. Because it's so good-looking, there may be a temptation to think it wants to be high-toned, but no: Its heart is in the horror-monster-sex-fantasy-special effects tradition."

Most religious critics were too busy chalking up the moral offenses of the characters and its historical anachronisms to make any comment on its Christ symbolism. John Adair (Preview) correctly points out that "the true beasts in this film are those men and women blinded by prejudice and fear." He still rejects the film for its "graphic violence and explicit sexual content."

Jerry Langord (Movieguide) calls it "an absurd story" that "follows in the footsteps of the latest filmmaking trends to present an historical story with contemporary elements and values. It is a clash which, if taken seriously, is, at the worst, revisionism and, at the least, terribly unconvincing as a storyline." Still he admits the film is "superbly crafted. It has breathtaking settings, amazing and technically-enhanced fight scenes and a terrific cast."

Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter) finds it too harsh on the Roman Catholic Church. "What, the Inquisition isn't damning enough when attacking corrupt religious leaders? Now, we need to bring in mythical monsters?" He concludes, "The ultra violence, the sexual activity [and] the religion bashing … made this a disappointing film."