It would be unkind to assume that the choice of water as a metaphor for magic in Constantine was made so as to enable multiple shots of Rachel Weisz preparing for a wet dress shirt contest. Unkind, but probably accurate. On the other hand, the cheesecake was balanced by the way the movie handled the sexual dynamic between her and Keanu. You win some and you lose some, which rather summarizes the entire experience.
The script was a lose: it took a little from Hellblazer and a little from Prophecy and whenever the screenwriter struck out on his own he fell flat on his face. The directing was a win — flashy and assured and with a good sense of visual style. I don’t know who to credit for the production design, but I note that David Lazan (the art director) and Naomi Shohan (production designer) worked together on Training Day and American Beauty, and Lazan in particular has a bunch more good-looking movies under his belt. You won’t find a better visualization of Hell anywhere.
I don’t have any complaints about any of the acting. Keanu goes deep and pulls up about as much affect as we can expect from him; I thought it worked very well for Constantine. The character is understated and unflappable by choice: Keanu is up to that, plus he puts a nice desperation in his eyes when necessary. Weisz is OK. The supporting characters are, for the most part, supportive — Shia LaBeouf wasn’t much to write home about, but his character (Chas) was brutally short-changed by the script, so it’s hard to blame him.
Tilda Swinton is superb, of course. Christopher Walken’s Gabriel could beat up her Gabriel in a fist-fight, but I wouldn’t want to bet against either of them in a battle of supercilious wit.
Man, though, the script. I mentioned poor Chas and how the script did him wrong. It was kind of as if the writer had heard of the subplot where the sidekick is eager but unready and wanted to put one of those in the movie, but wasn’t quite sure how to make the pacing work. Thus, Chas vanishes after a few minutes of showing no promise whatsoever, and doesn’t come back until the end of the movie. Plus his lines suck.
I had no objection to the Americanization of the movie. It’s not the comic book; while I’d like to see a movie of the comic book someday, this isn’t that movie. If it had sucked, I’d be more annoyed (which doesn’t entirely make sense, I know). Since it was a decent movie, I had no objection. Hey: sometimes inspiration is enough.
I did object to the random interjection of psychic powers into the movie. Possibly this is just me, but I think that it’s unwise to mess up the perfectly serviceable Catholic mythology with a whole bunch of ESP and clairvoyance and so on. What they’re trying to say is that some of the characters have the ability to see demons. Such powers arise from magick, often involving Thelemic sigils and the like. Insert a cursed bloodline or two and you’ve completely obviated the need for this talk of psychics.
There were a few nice tricks involving a flattened mise en scene. Once or twice, a conversation begins in one set and teleports without interruption to a set several miles across Los Angeles. It accentuated the general sense that Los Angeles — all of Earth, in fact — was just a backdrop as far as Heaven and Hell were concerned. One might also consider the journey of Jesse Ramirez’ scavenger from somewhere in Mexico to Los Angeles: he has no purpose other than to carry a certain item from there to here, his journey is told in snapshots, and he does not have a name.
I’m glad I saw it, because on the whole it was enjoyable and I’m glad it made enough money this weekend to make a sequel fairly likely. Possibly next time they’ll hire a real screenwriter as opposed to a fanboy.