Film Reviews


By • Feb 18th, 2005 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures presentsin association with Village Roadshow PicturesA Donners’ Co. / Batfilm Prods. / Weed Road Pictures / 3 Arts Entertainment production
R-Rated / 117 minutes

QUOTE: I believe in Satan, Hell, demons walking the Earth, and Keanu Reeves as a cancer-ridden exorcist. Stay until after the credits for a denouement.

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) has a really cool day job: He gets to visit Hell, converse with “half-breeds” (good and bad angels who have mated with humans and like wearing really neat clothes), and driving “soldier demons” out of humans. He’s got a talent for this kind of thing after surviving his own suicide. There are rules to dealing with Hell and half-breeds. Constantine has an “ally” – a man named Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) – who plays both sides of the otherworldly fence. He also rents an upscale apartment from Neo.

The complicated hagiography of CONSTANTINE is based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer and is written by Kevin Brodbin, Mark Bomback and Frank Capello. I have an entire section of my library devoted to Satan and demon possession. (I’ll recommend merely three from my vast “DP” collection: “Demon Possession” by John L. Nevius, “Possession and Exorcism, Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, The Middle Ages, and Modern Times” by Traugott K. Oesterreich, and “Hostage to the Devil, The Possession and Exorcism of Five Lining Americans” by Malachi Martin.)

People possessed by demons are among us and these books are testaments to this reality. However, not all possessed people need to be tied to a bed. Very few of them are ever prayed over. They are the kind of people you intuitively avoid. (This is the real reason why we are gleeful over the misfortune of vainglorious famous people: Through our collective unconscious we know Satan has lost interest in them and payback is due.)

According to “The Complete Book of Devils and Demons” by Leonard R.N. Ashley, there is also a demon hierarchy: Princes, Ministers, Ambassadors, Justices, The House of Princes, and the Trivial Spirits. Nybras is the Grand Publicist of the Pleasures of Hell; Kobal, the Entertainment Director of Hell; Nergal, the Chief of Secret Police of Hell; and, for those of us living in Sin City, we have our very own patron demon: Asmodeus, Head of the Casinos of Hell, banished to the desert by Raphael.

Hell sounds very colorful; and I have booked a room with a view.

John Constantine lives among the “half-breeds.” (FYI: Mastema is the leader of the offspring of fallen angels by human beings.) When defrocked Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince, still wiggling his eyes), cannot handle an exorcism, Constantine is called in. He is driven around L.A. by a young cab driver (Shia LaBeouf) who wants to be his assistant. There is a powerful demon loose in L.A. since the sword that pierced Jesus’s side was found by some Mexican peasants. (One such Holy Lance – there are quite a few, used by the Roman soldier Longinus, is in St. Peter’s Basilica, hidden away as is The Veil of Veronica.)

Constantine reluctantly agrees to help detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) when she insists her twin sister did not commit suicide but was murdered. Since her sister is a Roman Catholic, she is probably in Hell.

To facilitate Angela traveling to Hell, Constantine uses an effective, archaic method well known in religious history – near drowning. Makes you wonder if John the Baptist kept Jesus’s head down in the River Jordan a tad too long. Voluntarily drowning-for-ecstasy has a hallowed past. Initiating a near-death experience in Angela (my husband was president of IANDS, the International Association of Near Death Studies, in 1987), she goes to Hell-in-a-bathtub.

Drowning and suicide are nasty methodologies cleverly exploited by the screenwriters and first-time director Francis Lawrence. It gives CONSTANTINE a creepy, mean underpinning (but they left out auto-asphyxiation). The entire production is rich in sinister detail and the images of Hell are pure Hieronymus Bosch, with savage creatures and a barren, wind-swept scary Netherworld.

CONSTANTINE is a movie that requires a second viewing since it is steeped in arcane demonology and Augustinian dogma of Good vs. Evil. Once again the androgynous Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel is perfect and Satan is miraculously portrayed with delight and glee by Peter Stormare. Thank goodness someone finally figured out that Satan has a silly sense of humor. Special mention has to go to rock star Gavin Rossdale as Balthazar. Reeves is stunning with an understanding of the dark side of glamour and hopefully this is his next franchise.

John Constantine: Keanu Reeves
Angela Dodson/Isabel: Rachel Weisz
Chaz: Shia LaBoeuf
Gabriel: Tilda Swinton
Father Hennessey: Pruitt Taylor Vince
Midnite: Djimon Hounsou
Balthazar: Gavin Rossdale
Satan: Peter Stormare

Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenwriter: Kevin Brodbin
Based on characters from the “Hellblazer” graphic novels by: DC Comics/Vertigo
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner, Benjamin Melniker
Michael Uslan
Erwin Stoff, Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Akiva Goldsman
Executive producers: Gilbert Adler, Michael Aguilar
Director of photography: Philippe Rousselot
Production designer: Naomi Shohan
Editor: Wayne Wahrman
Costume designer: Louise Frogley
Visual effects supervisor: Michael Fink
Music: Brian Tyler and Klaus Badelt

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