The Crow (1994) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA rated: R for pervasive strong violence, language, drug use and some sexuality
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis, Tony Todd, Jon Polito, David Patrick Kelly, Angel David, Laurence Mason, Michael Massee, Bai Ling, Anna Thomson, Sofia Shinas
Director: Alex Proyas
Screenplay: David J. Schow, John Shirley (based on the comic book by James O'Barr)
Review published October 26, 2014
The Crow is based on the comic book by James O'Barr, which had something of a resonated into a cult following due to its poetic, imaginative writing style and themes of immortal love, angst-ridden loss, and lives snuffed out during their happiest of moments. O'Barr had written the short series after suffering the loss of his own girlfriend in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
As directed by Alex Proyas (I Robot, Knowing), who would go on to direct, appropriately, Dark City, the urban area inhabited by Eric Draven (Lee, Legacy of Rage) is one in which there is never any sunlight shown at any time, and even interiors are minimally lit, which is in keeping with the darker subject matter of the main story. The direction can be claustrophobic at times, with Proyas' tendency to frame most of the characters in close-up, but once you become accustomed to its goth style, its look fits. A miniature set is used for the cityscape, which Proyas uses to great effect for the shots of the crow sweeping through the air between the tall, dark buildings.
The main story involves the return from the grave of Eric Draven, a lead guitarist in a Goth-rock band who, along with his adoring girlfriend, Shelly Webster (Shinas, Terminal Velocity), had been snuffed out the year before by a vicious gang of thugs who seem to live for rape and murder. It's "Devil's night", the night before Halloween in a city known for its violent underworld and poverty-stricken blight. As he is already dead, he cannot be killed, at least not by any conventional ways, and he is out for bloody revenge on those who took away his life, and the life of his beloved. He gains his mystical powers by the grace of a crow that flies along with him, giving him its sense of sight and agility. Along the way to his revenge on these men under the employ of the city's most feared crime boss, Top Dollar (Wincott, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Draven makes peace with a girl named Sarah (Davis, Hell House), who the now-deceased couple had taken in when he mother abandoned her for her drug and prostitution habit, and a detective on the case.
At its core, The Crow isn't much more than the Death Wish formula, whereby we witness a cruel rape/murder scenario, followed by watching those who perpetrated the heinous deed to get their comeuppance in the most violent (and deserving) of ways. The difference is that it is the victim that has come back to exact the retribution, rather than a pissed-off cop who is tired of seeing the criminals get away with murder. As such, there is an element of sadness and pain involved in the revenge, rather than anger of exhilaration, as we're constantly reminded of the happiness in life of the loving couple, and the amorality of those who did the deed. In this way, some may also be reminded of RoboCop, though Draven's consciousness and memories are all he has, in contrast to RoboCop's Murphy, who has everything but.
The Crow will always have a mystique about it, as Brandon Lee, would have a tragic mishap during the shoot, mere days from its final wrap, that led to his untimely death. Brandon's father, the legendary martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, would also die early, and also during the production of a film (Game of Death) that would film the remainder of his scenes without him. Just as we see Draven come back to life, so too do we view the performance by Lee, in the last thing he would ever be involved in.
While it isn't a great performance by most traditional measures, it likely would have been an action star-making turn, as Lee not only has the athletic physical attributes to convincingly go through the motions of the fight choreography, there is an innate sense of goodness and sensitivity in his demeanor that makes for a fine romantic hero, even though he looks like the inspiration of Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight and he's got murder on his mind. The memory of Lee's death does not mar the effect of The Crow, and probably enhances it for those who feel the tragedy of such a promising and elegant young actor's life before he could cross over from B-movie action curiosity to full-fledged Hollywood star.
©2014 Vince Leo