★ ★ ★ ★
The Wolfman is yet another in a string of genre defining reinventions. It is to the monster genre what The Dark Knight is to the superhero genre, and Sherlock Holmes is to detective films. The critics weren't thrilled by it, but this shouldn't be surprising. There was relatively little violence for a horror film, and there is a level of complexity that most critics seem unable to comprehend.
Most monster movies have one of three problems. First, they fall into the trap of all supernatural movies. The character seems almost impervious to harm, thus reducing the immediacy of potential dangers. Second, they fail to create an compelling bond between the monster, and other human beings. This makes it hard to care about the monster. Third, and most common, they typically fail to conjure up the philosophical potential of the genre. Coppola's Dracula is an example of a film that avoided these pitfalls, though it was marred by other technical issues that prevented it from meeting its full potential. Aside from that, The Wolfman is the only film in the genre since the silent era I can think of that avoided these issues.
Far from simply meeting my criteria, Joe Johnston's film exceeded my expectations on every level. Within the first minute of the film, I knew it would be great. The cinematography was brilliant. Every shot had it's purpose. The often dizzying camera movement slowly fleshes out the surroundings, conveying a sense of vulnerability. We know there's something out there, and we know that there is nowhere to hide.
I cannot imagine a more perfect Wolfman than Benecio Del Toro. The additional facial hair almost looks natural on Del Toro, and his detached demeanor made him a natural for the role. Anthony Hopkins was solid as the elder Talbot, and Hugo Weaving was well cast as the lead detective. Much to my surprise, the stand out role was played by Emily Blunt. As The Wolfman's only connection to humanity, she is the thread that holds the film together.
The Wolfman explores the connection between trauma and social deviance. As we gradually discover tidbits from Lawrence's past, the allegory becomes evident. The Wolfman is a product of its environment. It is a dangerous creature, that can only be cured at great personal risk to others. Some will say that the only way to cure it is to release it from its burden. Perhaps this is the case. This is a revelation that has profound consequences with respect to rehabilitation, and mental illness. It is one of those possibilities that no one wants to explore. As human beings, we tend to avoid such unpleasant thoughts. The mark of a truly great film is that it challenges our prior beliefs. By this measure, The Wolfman is a major success. Don't let the critics dissuade you. Cinematic experiences of this quality are few and far between. Catch it while you still can.