Constantine (2005)

A quasi-religious thriller starring Keanu Reeves as the saviour of all mankind -- now, where have we heard that before? Luckily, though, Constantine is actually quite good.

Throughout the ages, God and Satan have been fighting a war -- or, in Constantine's terms, making a wager -- for the souls of all mankind. The rules dictate that neither side can actually manifest on the mortal plane; only halfbreeds, part-angels and part-demons, can walk the Earth influencing people's lives. The man behind the counter in the kebab shop when you stumble in at 3am is probably a half-demon, whereas, like it or not, the doctor telling you that you drink too much is probably an angel. John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is gifted -- or cursed, depending on your point of view -- with the ability to see these halfbreeds as they really are; an ability that once drove him to suicide. Legally dead for two minutes, Constantine got his first taste of Hell -- and, though he was revived, was doomed by his suicide to return there after his death. In an attempt to buy himself back into God's good graces, Constantine became an exorcist. Any halfbreed demons who threaten the "balance" are dispatched back to Hell with the Bond-esque quip "Constantine; John Constantine, asshole".

Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) was similarly "gifted" as a child, but when her twin sister Isabel (also played by Weisz, as well as a full-size wax replica of her) was committed to a mental hospital for claiming to see demons, she denied her abilities and eventually lost them, along with most of her Catholic faith. When Isabel jumps off a roof after whispering Constantine's name, Angela tracks him down to help solve the mystery of Isabel's apparent suicide, and a supernatural plot is revealed. Using the Spear of Destiny (the spear that pierced the side of Christ on the cross; notably the same prop as was used in Hellboy), a powerful psychic and some divine assistance in the form of insane half-angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), Satan's son plans to come to Earth and wreck havoc.

The main problem with Constantine is that it's very slow and, on occasion, slightly dull. Most of the actors seem to be taking their cue from Keanu Reeves and assuming that talking slowly is more dramatic, rather than just being irritating. It's also very predictable: all the plot elements are introduced and then fitted together precisely the way you'd expect. Being formulaic isn't necessarily a bad thing, though; Constantine lets you switch your brain off and just enjoy the prettiness of it. It is very pretty, after all. Surprisingly, the best performance in this movie may have been Bush-frontman Gavin Rossdale's portrayal of half-demon Balthazar. Wonderfully camp and creepy, Balthazar is a beautifully subtle evil appearing throughout; whilst the insect-demons are obviously disgusting, Balthazar is enjoyably insidious.

Reeves's ability to act stupid does at least come in handy in the final bargain Constantine makes with Satan: with a mortal sin on his conscience, Catholic dogma dictates that Constantine could never be granted entry into Heaven without performing some selfless act of sacrifice. All the exorcisms in the world can't open Heaven's gates to him until he's truly repentant. With this knowledge, when Satan offers him one boon in return for Constantine's help in stopping Satan's son ascending to Earth, self-sacrifice was far too obvious. Cunning, but still obvious. Surely, in the mind of any normal person, the outcome of ostensibly sacrificing oneself here would be all too clear, therefore rendering the sacrifice meaningless and selfish? Stupid people have it easy.

Constantine is beautiful, and, in places, pretty genuinely, heart-stoppingly scary. It only suffers from pacing issues, so be prepared. Oh, and if you can stand it, it's worth sticking around through the credits.

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1 comment:

The Silver Screen Kid said...

I liked Constantine too. Very surprising. I think Keanu gets a bad rep. He made Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure for crying out loud! The guy's ok in my book.