Brotherhood of the Wolf (le Pacte Des Loups)

on October 11, 2001 by Tim Cogshell
At two hours and 23 minutes, it's a little too long, and it doesn't need the bookends that frame the central story, but other than that, "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is just about as good as contemporary action movies get. It's also a more than just an action flick: Set in 1765 France during the reign of Louis XV, "Le Pacte Des Loups" (its untranslated title) is a period romance, a horror movie and a well-crafted thriller.

The story is based on a well-known legend about a creature laying waste to men, women and children in the French countryside. The opening sequence features an attack that is brutal, though the creature is unseen. In fact, we do not see the killer for the majority of the film--a very effective choice. It is assumed by the villagers that the culprit is a large wolf, even though it has eluded capture for years and displays an uncanny intelligence.

To end the siege, the King dispatches a renowned scientist, Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan of "Venus Beauty Institute"), and his blood brother, an Iroquois Indian called Mani (Mark Dacascos, "The Crow: Stairway to Heaven”), to employee their unique methods in stopping the killings. Think of de Fronsac and Mani as the Green Hornet and Kato. They're are expert trackers, martial artists (specializing in a style of fighting that combines kickboxing with Iroquois knife and staff techniques), philosophers, mystics, warriors, and, if the chatter at the local whorehouse is to be believed, exceptional lovers. What they eventually uncover is not just a monster, but a grand conspiracy that runs much deeper than the inventions of the average actioner, horror, thriller and/or drama, and really satisfies.

Samuel Le Bihan is a magnetic star who would rule Hollywood if he worked in English. The comely Emilie Dequenne, who plays Madame Marianne de Morangias, is a dazzling presence, and Vincent Cassel makes for a chilling villain as Marianne's handicapped but dangerous brother (though he wears those villainous inclinations a bit too obviously). Director Christophe Gans ("Crying Freeman"), cinematographer Dan Laustsen and costume designer Dominique Borg have evoked an atmosphere that is modern and highly stylized yet lushly captures the French countryside, boroughs and palaces.

Like last year's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a Chinese-language film that transcended the language barrier because of its originality and solid storytelling, "Brotherhood of the Wolf" should find a universal audience eager for a multidimensional film that's exciting, sexy, smart, funny and damn scary. Starring Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Emilie Dequenne and Jeremie Renier. Directed by Christophe Gans. Written by Stephane Cabel and Christophe Gans. Produced by Richard Grandpiere and Samuel Hadida. A Universal Focus release. Action/Drama. French-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity. Running time: 143 min

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